The world is now five years into implementing the SDGs. This gets me worried and keep wondering whether we are on track to meet them or not, and more importantly whether the biggest youth generation in history are properly on board in all aspects. DSW conducted a study ‘Investing in Africa’s Youth – How the EU can better support adolescent SRHR’. The study assesses how European Union (EU) development cooperation programmes have supported young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and is based on three case studies (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Zambia). I am glad to have had the opportunity to be part of the launch of the report in Brussels in February 2019, and to urge the EU to invest more in SRHR programmes for youth and adolescents. More critically, I had the opportunity of meeting face-to-face with EU Desk Officers in charge of Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania and discussed the findings.

I hold the position of International Programme Coordinator in DSW in charge of Youth Empowerment & Youth Advocacy in east Africa. I coordinate the development of policies and strategies pertaining to youth programming and participation within DSW, and lead regional capacity development for youth. Our new report is an advocacy tool to the EU, but also to any other development institution, on advancing our SRHR goals for adolescents and youth, with the ultimate aim of ensuring every young man and woman can access and exercise their sexual and reproductive health and rights. The report assesses how EU development cooperation programmes have supported young people’s access to SRHR and highlights key areas for consideration. Such areas include the need to make youth friendliness a standard criterion for delivering health and social services. The EU should have continuous consultation with youth to inform policy development, project design, implementation and monitoring.

Traditional grants have demonstrated that they are effective in making services youth friendly, equitable, accessible, acceptable and appropriate. Civil society organisations (CSOs) have been recognised in the findings as development and governance actors, paying special attention to targeting youth and youth-led organisations, these CSOs must be given an enabling environment to operate while adopting a structured, holistic and non-siloed approach towards addressing young people’s needs in engaging with different national ministries. Where health is chosen as a priority sector for donor coordination, we need to make sure that a comprehensive approach is taken, including the consideration of adolescent SRHR.

I shared a presentation during the launch emphasizing why it is important to target youth in development and gave some concrete examples on how this can be done in SRHR programmes. The EU appreciates the potential of including youth in their development cooperation work. Demographic dividend is a topic that is gaining attention at EU level, but sometimes Europe’s narrative is limited to the need for new jobs to ensure economic growth. The crucial aspect of human development (health, education) is sometimes missing as a strong factor in harnessing the demographic dividend fully.

During my trip to Brussels, I was satisfied to see that the EU established a department for Youth Inclusion. This department conducted a study on global health, employment, education and civic participation across nine countries on how youth are included in development programmes. The report is available online and has key recommendations on Youth Inclusion in development. The EU also acknowledges that it is challenging to adopt all youth declarations/recommendations from research or key meetings and is currently conducting a mapping on youth programmes for better coordination and responses from different sectors.

It was great to be able to meet with representatives from the EU institutions while I was in Brussels, to learn about their priorities, the challenges they face in their work – and where there is crossover for us to be able to collaborate in the future. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Brussels, and with my EU counterparts in east Africa to continue advancing the cause of SRHR and making sure that young people are in full control of their futures!