On Friday 3 July, IPPF Africa Regional Director Mrs. Marie-Evelyne Petrus-Barry held an engaging and insightful dialogue with 35 National Representatives of the Youth Action Movement (YAM). The YAM is the youth arm of IPPF Africa Region’s volunteer body based within the Member Associations (MAs). The virtual meeting was also attended by the IPPF Africa Regional Office Senior Management Team (SMT) and other staff.
At a time when the world is dealing with challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, adolescents and youth continue to be adversely affected, more so regarding their access to quality sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) information and services. The interactive dialogue sought to highlight some of these challenges, share best practices and lessons learned, and to collectively explore more solutions to these and other emerging challenges.
Some of these challenges include the suspension of many youth outreach activities.
“With the closure of schools and institutions of higher learning, we have been unable to reach many school-going adolescents and youth with SRHR information. We are also unable to carry out community outreaches -activities that otherwise enable us reach thousands of out-of-school youth with SRHR information and services, including HIV testing and condom distribution,” said Oumar Tao, YAM leader from Burkina Faso.
Closure of Youth-Friendly Safe Spaces
It gets worse for the young people, for the safe spaces where they would comfortably access SRHR information and services have been shut down. These are youth-friendly centers located in IPPF’s Member Associations and other health facilities. Healthcare systems in many countries are currently overstretched, with most prioritizing the COVID-19 response. Many youth-friendly centers are not operational, leaving young people exposed to various risks pertaining to their reproductive health and well-being.
COVID-19 has also seen the rise of sexual and gender-based violence against girls and young women, said Jacob Mutambo from Zambia.
“Incidents of forced child marriages have increased in many parts of Africa, with families marrying off their young girls for financial gain during these difficult times. Sadly, this could potentially reverse some of the significant gains that have been made in these communities over the years,” he said.
Innovation through Social Media
In response to these challenges, some of the successful strategies that the YAM have employed include the establishment of WhatsApp groups and other online platforms – safe spaces where they can discuss issues of their sexual reproductive health.
With the closure of youth-friendly safe spaces, the MA of Togo has developed a unique mobile phone app called ‘InfoAdoJeunes’ which provides youth with sexual health information and services. The app has proven to be an effective tool for remote consultation during COVID-19 when access to a physical hospital is difficult.
The youth have also created numerous posters and short videos with educational content on SRHR and keeping safe during COVID-19. They continue to participate in interactive radio shows and television broadcasts in their countries, reaching more young people with messages.
One significant challenge though is that many young people in far-flung marginalized areas are not receiving any information or services.
“Millions of African youth live in the rural areas where they don’t have access to internet and other forms of technology. The infrastructure in these areas is barely existent, if at all, with health facilities located tens of kilometers away. We have been advocating for such young people because without information and services, they are at great risk for negative sexual reproductive health consequences,” said Maria Helena Furtado from Cape Verde.
More Investment by IPPFAR to Youth Activities
Mrs. Petrus-Barry acknowledged the youth’s important work in Member Associations in response to SRHR and COVID-19. She took note of the exemplary leadership they have provided to their peers during these difficult times.
“You continue to play key roles in advocacy, activism and service provision at the regional, national and local levels. These activities have not only contributed towards the attainment of your Member Associations’ goals and objectives, but also towards the achievement of various health and development goals in your countries,” she said.
Mrs. Petrus-Barry pledged more support and investment towards youth programs, which will enable them to reach even more adolescents and young people with much needed information and services.
Professional Growth and Development for Youth
The dialogue was held at a time when IPPF is undergoing governance reforms, and with young people being at the core of the organization’s work, Mrs. Petrus-Barry took the opportunity to address the young leaders on the status of the reforms.
“The IPPF reforms have taken into account the key role that young people play within the Federation. Our organization deals with issues of reproductive health, with a larger percentage of our clients being young people within the reproductive bearing age, so without the youth, IPPF will not fulfill its mandate,” she said.
Mrs. Petrus-Barry encouraged them to explore more opportunities both within and beyond the sexual reproductive health and rights realm. These youth of Africa are human rights defenders. We should protect them and train them as such.
To enhance the young people’s interaction at the professional level, the Regional Director announced the development of a youth internship programme, as well as a youth professional program to be piloted in the two MAs of Burkina Faso and Kenya, and thereafter roll it out in more MAs.
If you are young person and would like to join the Youth Action Movement, you can also reach us through @YAM Africa