DSW presented its experiences at an advocacy workshop that it organised in collaboration with the Planning and Economic Development Commission of the Oromiya Regional State. The two-day workshop took place in Adama, 80 miles southeast of Addis Ababa, and called for mainstreaming of adolescents and youth sexual and reproductive health (AYSRH) into regional policy planning.
The experiences shared were drawn from the good practices observed in the course of implementing the project “Serving the Underserved: Improving the SRH of Vulnerable Youth”, which operates at two flower farms. “Serving the Underserved” is one of DSW’s latest pilot interventions that particularly focuses on working youth. The first three years of its first phase came to an end in September 2020. Following its conclusion, good practices were documented based on an earlier assessment.
The presentation of this assessment led to proactive discussion during the advocacy workshop with key stakeholders who represent the Oromiya Regional State. One of the main discussion points was mainstreaming and integrating AYSRH based on DSW’s tried-and-tested youth-in-the-workplace approach.
“In the past, in-school youth were our main focus for intervention because educational institutions were places we easily found a large number of adolescents and youths. But as the demographic dynamics transformed, those that were once concentrated in schools moved into working places, and DSW refocused some of its interventions on the flower farms and industrial parks where there are tens of thousands of youths employed. This is a result of widespread efforts tied to the government’s ambitious policy to create employment opportunities for youth in Ethiopia,” said Feyera Assefa, DSW’s Country Director in Ethiopia.
According to sources published by the Industrial Parks Development Corporation (IPDC), Ethiopia has already spent around $1.3 billion in the development of a dozen industrial parks, ten of which are operational at full capacity, thus far. With the total number of youths employed in the various industrial parks reaching more than 300,000, each industrial park is home to nearly 30,000 youth employees who spend several hours each day together.
“When such a volume of youth population is found in close proximity and keeps interacting while being either at the industrial parks or the flower farms working eight hours each day, their unique vulnerability to SRH problems requires an equally unique approach to improve their SRH needs,” Feyera said. “One of DSW’s strategies to address this is to upgrade the youth-friendly SRH service outlets up to the level of clinics. These clinics are located at the flower farms and outside. Their upgrading needs are assessed and met by DSW in partnership with the Ministry of Health.” He added, “Learning from our good practices, the SRH youth-friendly service facilitations have made the service delivery more comprehensive and efficient.”
The good practice document further reveals that over 2,500 youths accessed comprehensive youth-friendly SRH services at the upgraded clinics. “The Serving the Underserved project has targeted youth in the workplace and this approach has been effective in improving AYSRH needs. The question is how can other partners integrate, replicate and scale up DSW’s workplace approaches,” said Abebe Demisu, Program and Projects Department Manager at DSW Ethiopia.
“Like the AYSRH issues, the workplace approach initiated and implemented by DSW over the past three years has taught us a key lesson for integrating and mainstreaming it into the policy plan, ensuring future replication of the good practices,” said Teshome Adugna, PhD, commissioner of Planning and Economic Development Commission of the Oromiya Regional State.
Dr. Adugna further enthuses that “the SRH needs and problems among the adolescent and youth population should be comprehensively addressed using tried-and-tested approaches and by coordinating and collaborating; by combining efforts, resources, skills and knowledge as well as strengthening the capacity of institutions, we can mainstream the AYSRH issues on the one hand and integrate a workplace approach on the other. Putting quality AYSRH information and services in place to be accessed by the right beneficiaries at the right time will directly impact overall economic development endeavors.”
Data showed that the growing commitment by government and private sectors to bring employment opportunities to youth in places such as the flower farms and industrial parks brought along the unforeseen challenges of vulnerability that impact young people’s health. By building on the institutional capacity of the youth-friendly health facilities to ensure that their SRH services are accessible for working youth, the challenges can be overcome. “This requires coordinated efforts between and among partners,” Abebe said, noting additionally, “This is particularly true when the dynamic of youth mobility is given close attention.”
Anecdotes from participants of the workshop to put the SRH issues into context:
In developed nations, in the same way as here, couples get along and interact between themselves. Relationships between couples may be built on the basis of cohabitation or wedlock. They still maintain their conjugal intimacy at home. However, you don’t see children being born at breakneck speed as is often the case here.
Female employees in the flower farms, who make up the majority of the workforce, once believed that the chemical spray used for the flowers in the farm would cause infertility. The story became a widespread and persistent rumor, and the female youth working in the flower farms became vulnerable to deception by male coworkers and men outside of their workplace. The suggestion was that, unless they were able to prove otherwise, infertility might have already been caused by chemical exposure. Hence, in an attempt to prove their own fertility, many had unprotected sex. When this resulted in a pregnancy, which was the case quite often, they sought out unsafe abortion services. Thanks to DSW’s interventions, which increased awareness and established youth-friendly SRH services nearby, the female youths’ vulnerability to these and other SRH issues were addressed and improved.
Keep up to date with all of our activities and projects here on our blog.