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Ensuring Inclusivity: World Population Day and the Imperative of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for Key Populations

On 15th November 2022, the world’s population hit 8 billion, representing both increased challenges and opportunities associated with population growth. Eight months later, as we mark World Population...

By Renee Sewe (WISH2ACTION Communications Advisor) and Wanjiru Mathenge (WISH2ACTION SBCC Advisor)

On 15th November 2022, the world’s population hit 8 billion, representing both increased challenges and opportunities associated with population growth. Eight months later, as we mark World Population Day and re- focus on promoting awareness on population issues, it provides us with an opportunity to discuss and address issues such as access to healthcare, education, food security, environmental sustainability, and economic development. The day aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-being) and, Goal 5(Gender Equality). These goals are for all populations, underscoring the importance of leaving no one behind. 

Hard-to-reach populations such as youth, the poor, people with disabilities and those in humanitarian settings deserve equitable access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Unfortunately, these populations are often neglected when it comes to access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and information. Those living in poverty face multiple barriers to access services due to financial constraint.  Similarly, individuals in humanitarian settings and people with disabilities face unique challenges that require tailored support to ensure their sexual and reproductive rights are safeguarded.

Levelling the field

The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)funded WISH programme under the strategy ‘Leave No One Behind’ offers quality integrated and inclusive sexual and reproductive services to hard-to-reach populations including youth under 20, the poor, people with disabilities and those in humanitarian settings. The programme has adopted multiple approaches to reach these groups and contribute to them living dignified lives.



Reaching people

To address poverty WISH2ACTION has enhanced the use of poverty heat maps, targeting high population density areas for service provision. This has led to programme implementation movement from urban areas to peri-urban and rural regions with further adoption and evolution of service delivery channels including s mobile outreach camps, outreach services and community-based distribution through community volunteers. Complemented with community awareness, addressing knowledge barriers and negative social and cultural norms on women accessing SRH information and services.

Youth are prioritized through a youth-centered approach, involving young people in mobilizing and implementing youth-led edutainment activities, alongside the provision of youth-friendly services.

To reach people with disabilities, WISH2ACTION consortium partner, Humanity Inclusion, enhances the capacity of implementing partners to implement disability-inclusive programmes. Technical assistance and training on inclusive demand creation and service delivery are offered, emphasising partnerships with national and regional organisations of people with disability for mobilisation.  

Adopting controversial / Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE)

CSE is an important component to empowering girls to understand their sexuality and make informed reproductive health decisions.  However, CSE has been misunderstood in some instances, insinuating that it provides potential exposure of youth to sexual behaviour and inevitably teenage pregnancies. Within this context, the programme in Tanzania is complementing the governments refreshed focus on adolescent health and wellbeing and has conducted a CSE training of trainers for primary and secondary teachers who will further cascade in regions where WISH2ACTION is being implemented, working with peer educators to sustainably create awareness on the specific elements of pregnancy prevention and reproductive wellbeing, in and out of school. In South Sudan, Sudan, Zambia, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Burundi; the programme has partnered with Ministries of Education and other SRH stakeholders to conduct holistic wellbeing and reproductive health focused awareness sessions in and out of school on a variety of topics, including, life skills, communication, negotiation, pregnancy prevention using youth centred, edutainment approaches further linking young people to health service providers for more information and services. These activities have created a space to reach young people, in a free environment to receive SRH services without stigma.

Addressing barriers to empowerment through engagement

Through the WISH social behavioural change communications (SBCC) strategy, the programme raises awareness of SRH, challenges myths and harmful cultural norms, and engages influencers of women and girls Interpersonal communication approaches like community dialogues have been used within the different contexts; to meet and engage men, religious leaders, cultural leaders, women matriarchs; addressing the obligation to have big families, prove fertility early into marriages, reducing stigma to young people who access SRH information and services.

A different picture before 9 billion

To ensure that the advancement, growth, and progress of all, we need to renew our commitment to inclusivity. By prioritising the sexual and reproductive health and rights of key population groups, we can work towards a future that leaves no one behind, protecting the well-being and autonomy of all individuals, regardless of their circumstances.