Advocating for change for adolescents: an event on youth-led advocacy for adolescent health and wellbeing
The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, in collaboration with the governments of Cameroon, India, Malawi, Kenya and Nigeria, as well as Women Deliver, organised a side event, ‘Advocating for change for adolescents!’ on 18th September at the EWEC Hub in UN Headquarters. The event was a unique opportunity for government and youth leaders in each of the five countries to discuss the challenges adolescents face and with the participants, agree on how to support young people to advocate to improve and get involved in strengthening national and sub-national programmes to meet their special needs in their countries. The event opened with welcome remarks from Women Deliver’s CEO and President Katja Iversen, speaking about the importance of partnerships, she said, “don’t ask what young people can do for you – or what you can do for young people. Ask what we can do together.”
In the panel discussion, moderated by Gogontlejang Phaladi, PMNCH Adolescent and Youth Constituency Board Chair, government representatives from the five countries presented a situation analysis, as well as key policy approaches and commitments that address adolescent health and wellbeing. Speakers included:
- Jeannette B. Afounde, Ministry of Health, Cameroon;
- Vandana Gurnani, Joint Secretary - Reproductive and Child Health, Ministry of Health, Family and Welfare, India;
- Jeanne Patrick, Ministry of Health, Kenya;
- Fannie Kachale, Director of Reproductive Health, Ministry of Health, Youth Action Alliance, Malawi; and
- Director, Family Health Unit, Ministry of Health, Nigeria.
Challenges raised across the countries included non-communicable diseases, mental health, inadequate services, fear and stigmatisation and legal barriers including age of consent laws and child marriage, among other key issues. Following these presentations, the youth representatives shared some highlights of their advocacy roadmaps.
Youth -led organisations from the five countries presented their ongoing advocacy efforts to advance adolescent health and well-being, using the recently launched “Advocating for Change for Adolescents!” toolkit. Developed by PMNCH in collaboration with Women Deliver, the toolkit was launched at the Global Adolescent Health conference in Ottawa in May 2016. Highlights include:
- In Kenya, young people will work with their governments to expand access to information and services to prevent unintended pregnancies and ensure girls can complete their secondary education.
- In Cameroon, young people are working with their governments to disaggregate data for evidence-informed and tailored policies and programs for adolescents.
- In India, young people will help strengthen implementation of the national adolescent health program, RKSK, to reach adolescents at the community level in collaboration with their government.
- In Malawi, young people are mobilizing their networks and campaigning to remove legal barriers for access to services.
- In Nigeria, young people are advocating for increased financing for adolescent health and wellbeing, including sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Young people as agents for change
Youth representatives for the roll-out of the toolkit in the five countries include: Desmond Nji Atanga, Cameroon Youth Network; Souvik Pyne, YP Foundation, India; Mary Josephine Nduta, Organisation of African Youth; Marcia Trindade, Youth Action Alliance, Malawi; and, Kosi Izundu, Education as a Vaccine, Nigeria.
“This constituency brings together youth-led organisations from various countries and regions, to unite with a common voice for advocacy, accountability and partner engagement for health and development more broadly”, ...“The constituency is represented on this panel today, with many others in the room who have contributed to these discussions. They are here today, because they are determined to make a positive change in the health and lives of adolescents in their communities”.
Executive Director Ms. Helga Fogstad
Youth representatives across the countries present on the panel noted that policy implementation was a major challenge. For example, in Cameroon, the youth partners want to institutionalise comprehensive sexuality education curriculum in all schools. Souvik Pyne for YP Foundation asserted that “young people should be the social agents for change.”
Additional interventions were shared by members of various constituencies, including Carles Pericas representing the International Federation of Medical Students Association and the Independent Accountability Panel. The IFMSA spoke about the importance of capacity building for youth networks in skills such as advocacy. Daksitha Wickremarathne, the Independent Accountability Panel youth representative, spoke about the linkages to accountability for adolescents by using the report launched previously that day.
The Senior Advisor to the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth followed remarks on the power of youth-led advocacy in the era of the SDGs with a call to action for better data on adolescents and young people. In addition, Together for Girls’ CEO Daniela Ligiero, presented their model of collecting data on sexual violence among adolescent girls in 22 countries through national household surveys. Together for Girls also announced winners of the Every Hour Matter Challenge, including PMNCH Adolescent and Youth Constituency Member, Patrick Mwesigye, Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum.
In closing, Executive Director Helga Fogstad congratulated countries and youth partners’ for their exemplary leadership in advancing adolescent health and wellbeing in their countries. Ms. Fogstad emphasized the importance of PMNCH’s Adolescent and Youth constituency – a platform which has ensured that adolescent and youth voices are heard and amplified. “This constituency brings together youth-led organisations from various countries and regions, to unite with a common voice for advocacy, accountability and partner engagement for health and development more broadly”, she said. “The constituency is represented on this panel today, with many others in the room who have contributed to these discussions. They are here today, because they are determined to make a positive change in the health and lives of adolescents in their communities”.