Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana MEP meeting with youth representatives at the ICPD25 in Nairobi.
Young people have the power to achieve sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.
Amid the buzz of debates and performances at the International Conference on Population and Development’s 25th Anniversary Summit in Nairobi last November, I met with eight passionate youth representatives from across east Africa.
From the hills of Kenya to the coastal regions of Tanzania, these young people represented diverse regions, but brought similar challenges to the table; teenage pregnancy, lack of comprehensive sexuality education, barriers to accessing youth-friendly reproductive health services and stigma. Together as a coalition of civil society organisations, they are working together to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights in their communities.
Teenage pregnancy was of great concern, with a number of accounts shared by the young people detailing the horrors of children as young as nine and ten giving birth. Overall, nearly one-fifth of adolescents become pregnant in such countries, with prevalence rates of adolescent pregnancy as high as 26.7% in Tanzania and a pooled prevalence rate of 21.5% across East Africa.
From teenage pregnancy to sexually transmitted diseases, maternal deaths and gender-based violence, young people are passionately advocating for change in their communities. They are calling for the establishment of youth-friendly services in traditional healthcare settings, delivering awareness campaigns and outreach activities, and engaging their political representatives on how to better support young people on issues relating to their sexual health.
In January, the Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee and the Development Committee jointly voted on our resolution following ICPD25. The resolution asks for specific financial and political commitments from the Commission and the Council. We wait to hear from them how specifically they foresee delivering on the commitments of Cairo and Nairobi, within and outside the EU.
We as parliamentarians call for better investment in adolescent health and well-being, putting an emphasis on younger adolescents and sexual education, to help to reduce adolescent pregnancy, gender-based violence and sexually transmitted infections – barriers that are getting in the way of young people, especially girls, from fulfilling their potential. The current discussion on the future EU multi-annual financial framework (MFF) and the new Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) provide a key opportunity to strengthen the EU’s support for sexual and reproductive health and rights.
It is clear that young people are ready to achieve a fairer world, where everyone is able to enjoy their full rights. If we are to achieve the ICPD25 Programme of Action and fulfill our commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals, we must continue to support young people as positive agents of change now, so that future generations face zero unmet needs in regards to their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana is a Member of the European Parliament.