‘Aid Organizations Must Include the Youth Voice’ August 12, 2022—International Youth Day

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Education, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here, Global, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, TerraViva United Nations, Youth Thought Leaders

Opinion

NEW YORK, Aug 12 2022 (IPS) – Today marks International Youth Day, a global celebration of the transformative power of young people. Introduced by the United Nations General Assembly in 1999, the event was inaugurated not only to observe the power of the youth voice, but to serve as a promise from those in power to activate the power of youth across the development sector.


Yasmine Sherif

Since then, the United Nations appointed a Youth Envoy, dedicated to the diffusion of the day’s promise, and many aid organizations have followed suit by including the voices of young people in social media campaigns, high-level events, and stakeholder forums.

In 2021, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, took a further, concrete step to democratically include youth in its governance structure and decision-making processes. Scores of youth-led NGOs applied to join a newly created youth constituency, and after only a few weeks, the sub-group had become one of the largest, most active, and most diverse constituencies within the fund.

On the Executive Committee and High-Level Steering Group of ECW, young people were represented for the first time alongside government ministers, heads of UN agencies and civil society organizations, and private sector leaders — a refreshing example of intergenerational collaboration at the highest levels of humanitarian aid.

Another significant step in the race for youth inclusion occurred when ECW partnered with Plan International to support a group of youth activists through the ‘Youth for Education in Emergencies Project,’ a campaign by youth panelists aiming to demonstrate the value of youth participation.

As ECW builds momentum towards its High-Level Financing Conference in February 2023 with the #222MillionDreams Campaign, we call on strategic partners to include the youth voice as we come together to mobilize funding resources for the 222 Million crisis-impacted children and adolescents worldwide that require urgent educational support.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of exceptional young people ready to lead the charge. The Global Student Forum, for example, has brought together more than one hundred national student unions, composed of millions of youth activists, and successfully lobbied governments around the world with its democratic force.

H.D. Wright

The success of Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s 100 Million Campaign, a global, youth-led effort to end child exploitation, further illustrates the immense value of grassroots organizing. And at a local level, youth-led NGOs have brought change to their communities in ways equally substantial.

Aid organizations and professionals have changed the lives of countless young people around the world. By including them, aid organizations can tap into their extraordinary resilience and strength, and actually learn from them. Using their reach on social media, young people excel at spreading awareness and engagement around the world. Just as unknown singers become famous because of the young people who promote them, previously unknown issues have reached national prominence overnight and created substantive change.

With regard to fundraising, each young person is surrounded by a community, offering a network ready to lend a hand. In terms of policy, young people affected by crises can identify their needs with an ease unmatched by any humanitarian policy professional, for they are experts in their own lives, challenges and opportunities. Young people are intelligent and capable of shaping their own futures. They have an idealism and a courage that the world so desperately needs today. Their unflinching optimism, powerful energy, and uncompromising commitment to change will ensure that those futures are not only safe, but better than the present they inherited.

ECW can attest to the enlightening and inspiring vitality of young people. Since its creation, the youth constituency has worked energetically on behalf of this breakthrough global fund, providing valuable input and guidance on multi-year programs and first emergency responses in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Haiti, Iraq and Mali. When schools shut down due to the pandemic, the youth constituency persisted, working together to inform aid programmes dispersed across crisis-affected countries.

The youth constituency even responded in real time to developing crises, including the earthquake in Haiti, the deteriorating crisis in Afghanistan, and most recently, the war in Ukraine. Their contributions played a role in meaningful projects: since its inception in 2016, ECW’s programs have reached over 5 million children and adolescents, providing them with quality support, including educational materials, school meals, mental health programs, and other basic necessities.

On this day, it is important to observe the power of young people, and the impactful work that aid organizations have conducted across the sector. Yet celebration and transformation must go hand in hand, ensuring that next year, when International Youth Day returns, we are one step closer to fulfilling its original promise to unleash the power of the youth.

Yasmine Sherif is the Director of Education Cannot Wait. H.D. Wright is Youth Representative at Education Cannot Wait

IPS UN Bureau

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Youths Trailblazing Paths in Sexual and Reproductive Health Ahead of ICFP Family Planning Conference

Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, Population, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health, Youth Thought Leaders

Youth Thought Leaders

Youth activists Peace Umanah, from Nigeria and Aurelia Naa Adjeley Sowah-Mensah from Ghana ensure that young people are made aware of their Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights. Credit: ICFP

Nairobi, Kenya, Mar 16 2022 (IPS) – Travelling in northern Nigeria, Peace Umanah noticed teenage girls with multiple children – they would be walking with one strapped to their back, holding another by hand and with a protruding belly.


“These were worrisome sights that got me thinking about whether these young girls knew about contraceptive choices or if they were not given information to make beneficial decisions.”

The same question weighed heavily on young Aurelia Naa Adjeley Sowah-Mensah from Ghana, who grew up in a community where teenage pregnancies are common – mirroring the situation in many developing countries.

These questions set the young women on a trailblazing path to change the trajectory of adolescent and teenage pregnancies in their countries.

The pair have joined forces with other young people, world leaders and actors in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) to give young people in every corner of the world much-needed tools to navigate their sexuality. They hope to remove SRHR-related challenges to enable young women to benefit from socio-economic growth and development opportunities.

“Through the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) Youth Trailblazer Award, young leaders in the field of family planning and SRHR aged 18-35 years old were invited to submit creative short videos that integrate this year’s conference theme,” says Jose G Rimon II, director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Jose G Rimon II, director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Credit: ICFP

Rimon II, who is also the chair of ICFP’s International Steering Committee, tells IPS the videos “also highlighted youth perspectives, experiences, and voices in family planning and SRHR”.

The videos reflected the conference’s theme: ‘Universal Health Coverage and Family Planning: Innovate, Collaborate, Accelerate’.

Sowah-Mensah and Umanah were among 50 youth leaders working in family planning and SRHR awarded scholarships to attend ICFP this year in Pattaya City, Thailand, on November 14-17, 2022.

Other award winners include Tanaka Chirombo from Malawi, Alison Hoover from Atlanta, USA, and Muhammad Sarim (Saro) Imram from Pakistan.

Awardees are from countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, selected from a pool of more than 300 youth worldwide who applied for the Youth Trailblazer Award. The award recognises youth leadership and innovation in family planning and SRHR.

“Selected youth demonstrated strong ideas and commitment, creative thinking that pushed the field forward and challenged norms, and successfully conveyed a clear and powerful message,” says Rimon II.

Youth Trailblazer Award winners will be integrated throughout the ICFP, the world’s largest scientific conference on family planning and reproductive health, to amplify and highlight the voices of young leaders globally, he adds.

“Awardees will actively participate in planning activities for the ICFP, including integral participation on the ICFP subcommittee(s) of their choice, engagement as speakers and moderators at sessions, as well as other conference engagement opportunities that will magnify the voices, perspectives, and experiences of the youth.”

Youth participation will bring to life ICFP’s stance that countries’ universal health coverage packages should include youth-friendly family planning and SRH products and services.

“As of 2021, the modern contraceptive prevalence rate shows only 17 percent of all women of reproductive age in Nigeria use contraceptives,” Umanah says.

In the absence of youth-friendly services, myths and misconceptions influence young people’s understanding of contraceptives. She says they sometimes use lime, soda, antibiotics, and salt to prevent unplanned pregnancies.

Adolescent and teenage pregnancies are the most pressing issues. Consequences include life-threatening health complications and the risk of missing out on lifelong learning and earning opportunities.

According to government statistics, one in every five girls in Kenya between the ages of 15 to 19 is either pregnant or already a mother. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year-old girls in this East African nation.

As a youth champion engaging adolescents and young people, Umanah says the cohort needs safe spaces free of stigma and judgment, where they can find answers and solutions to their SRHR needs.

“For young women and girls, being able to speak up and be heard is critical. Social media tools, such as 9ja Girls Now, gives girls a platform to get connected across distances,” Umanah observes.

“9ja Girls is a Facebook platform and a safe space where girls learn and ask questions about love, life and health and find answers.”

Sowah-Mensah is an SRHR mentor of adolescent girls and young women under the Girl Boss initiative with the Youth Action Movement (YAM) of the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana.

Without support, Sowah-Mensah says, “some girls exchange sex for food or money, ending up in unplanned pregnancies. To avoid stigma, they turn to unsafe ways (to terminate the pregnancy), such as grinding and consuming glass bottles or drinking a mixture of sugar and alcohol. Some lose their lives.”

A dedicated ICFP Youth Pre-conference will take place November 11-13 to support youth leaders and their programmatic work, advocacy, and research.

Rimon II says youth involvement is the “best way to ensure diverse voices are heard and strategies are developed that are sustainable, inclusive, culturally competent and representative of sexual and reproductive health and rights at the global level.”

SRHR youth experts such as Sowah-Mensah and Umanah agree.

Sowah-Mensah says young people are the demographic majority and a powerful instrument for development because they have many innovative ideas.

“But a large percentage of our leaders are not young and are thus unable to address young people’s most pressing needs for SRHR services. You have one generation making bodily autonomy decisions on behalf of a totally different generation,” she says.

The awardees assert that the status quo must change to achieve a desirable outcome. Umanah says, “In designing solutions to challenges that face adolescent girls and young women, their concerns and voices should be the loudest. They should lead conversations towards desired solutions.”

ICFP is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins University and more than two dozen other public, private, and non-profit sponsors, including the World Health Organization and United Nations Population Fund.

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IPS UN Bureau Report

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