On June 29, DSW, in cooperation with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) hosted a Capacity 4 Change event under the title: Youth in EU-Africa Relations. The event focused in particular on how best to support young people’s needs in COVID-19 times, and how to take forward lessons learned from the pandemic. 

Young people in Africa have been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic and social consequences. Access to quality education, disposable income, decent work, health, and well-being have been jeopardized, putting millions of young people at risk. Young people should be at the core of programmes aimed at ‘building back better’ in the context of the response to the COVID-19 global health pandemic and economic and social crisis.

While delivering opening remarks, Annica Floren, acting Head of Unit, Youth, Education, and Culture at DG INTPA, European Commission highlighted how a recent consultation with over 450,000 young people in Europe and in Africa showed that 91% of respondents would like to be more involved in decision making, but two-thirds claimed that they don’t have access to decision-makers. Floren then went on to outline what action the Commission’s Directorate for International Partnerships (DG INTPA) is taking to better deliver on youth participation. These included the initiation of a youth sounding board for DG INTPA, as well as advising the implementation of such boards by all European Delegations in partner countries. She also underlined that the European Commission will adopt a Youth Action Plan in 2022, with targeted consultations planned.

Bitania Lulu Berhanu, recently appointed Special Adviser on Youth to Jutta Urpilainen, EU Commissioner for International Partnerships applauded the Commission’s commitment to positioning youth as a cross-cutting priority in their work. Berhanu took the opportunity in her opening remarks to underscore the importance of remembering that young people are a diverse group, from their religion to disability, gender and geography. 

She also added that 1 in every 6 people globally is between the ages of 15-24, and they have a huge amount to offer; bringing a lot of innovative ideas, and creativity to the table. However, in order for them to be able to engage, there are many barriers for them to overcome, highlighting that youth must be healthy to be able to participate fully. She underlined the importance of access to health services, including youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services, stressing that there are sadly still multifaceted barriers that young people face in accessing such services. 

Berhanu closed her remarks by discussing the opportunities and challenges of technological progress. Technology can be a catalyst to sustainable development, and COVID-19 has pushed us to explore digital living, but the promotion of digital tools and digital skills development in both formal and informal education will be crucial to maximize the potential and not leave anyone behind. 

Participants were then invited to join break out rooms that showcased best practices that guarantee young people access to:

  • adequate, accessible, and quality health services, including youth-friendly SRHR services
  • youth inclusion in governance and decision-making & meaningful participation of young people
  • digital skills development and a transformation of learning cultures to increase the global competition chances in the labor market. 

In the session focused on adequate, accessible, and quality health services, case studies were presented on how to ensure access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services. 

Philis Wabwire, Project Coordinator, and Miriam Chebet, Youth Mentor from the DSW Holistic Action Project for Adolescents (HAPA) in Kenya presented lessons learned over the last year. The HAPA project is supporting more than 7,000 young adolescents through fourteen school clubs, aiming to increase access to adequate youth-friendly SRHR services and information. Some of the challenges faced included: 

  • Youth empowerment clubs and school closures
  • Limited access to SRH and family planning services
  • Increased Gender-Based Violence
  • Increased Early Marriages 
  • Community Action Committee dialogues were limited and reduced access to justice 

An out-of-school peer learning approach was adopted to attempt to counteract the challenges posed by the pandemic, and various media channels, including radio and social media were used to share accurate and digestible information. Some of the lessons learned from this included the need to strengthen digital solutions and invest in digital literacy; train medical professionals for youth-friendly service provision; and invest in a sound adolescent policy environment, to ensure young people can participate in political and public life. 

Monica Basemera from the TeamUp Project in Uganda gave insight into how they adapted to ensure continuous service delivery during the pandemic. The TeamUp project is a pilot that is aiming to support 50,000 young people in Uganda, both in and outside of school. When a lockdown was introduced, activities had to be adjusted. One of the alternative ways of communicating that the project adopted was the TeamUp Hour radio show recorded remotely on WhatsApp then aired on a local station and made available on a SoundCloud page. Joined by diverse guests, the show covered all sectors of health, agriculture, and water, as well as sharing accurate and up-to-date information about COVID-19. 

In the next phase, a radio novella will be introduced into the TeamUp Hour programme, a serialised drama running over a period of 30 weeks, following characters in everyday life, showcasing learning, and informing listeners on the outcomes of certain behavioural choices. Young people are at the heart of the novella, developing the storylines and scripts with the support of a professional writer, and selecting actors from existing drama groups that are already part of the TeamUp programme. 

Regathering in the plenary, synergies appeared in how to achieve youth-friendly SRHR services or secure youth inclusion in governance, and best practices shared. Some of the key takeaways included: 

  • It’s important that young people play a key role in providing services themselves, as well as delivering advocacy actions. 
  • Progression, from the individual to the group, from a local to a national level when it comes to youth-led advocacy is really important. 
  • MSI Ladies, which started as a pilot by MSI has now become a successful network across fifteen countries. It is based on a model where qualified midwives and nurses from the local community, or simply committed women from other walks of life, who are trained and supported by MSI, provide confidential contraceptive services and advice to women in their own homes.
  • There are important links between SRHR and digitalisation that, if done right, could help to deliver better services to more young people.  
  • Although the digital space provides an opportunity for youth engagement, it’s important to remain aware of the infrastructure challenges faced by young people and the risk of alienation. How do we ensure digital solutions are inclusive for all, leaving no one behind? What solutions bridge the urban-rural divide? Mentorship programmes/ tailor-made solutions/ different learning tools for different contexts should all be explored.
  • Amref Health Africa in Ethiopia’s youth advisory Group is an example of good practice in youth engagement, recognising the importance of youth voices and their meaningful engagement on a local, regional and national level.
  • We need to adapt and adapt quite quickly. Do we need to redefine how we engage young people? Are we meeting young people where they’re at? It’s important for us to constantly bear in mind the need to engage young people. What does youth engagement mean with young people in the driving seat? 
  • Smart Start in Ethiopia works with young designers aged 18 to 24 years old, who develop programmes via human-centered design. The young people are selected based on their lived experience, rather than their educational background, and act as gatekeepers for youth needs, helping to develop solutions that grow access to contraception to married youth and girls. 

Lisa Goerlitz, Head of Brussels Office, DSW closed the event, by thanking all in attendance, and stressing that only by focusing on youth needs can we make sure they can lead healthy and self-determined lives and that we need to support them to create meaningful spaces so that they can actively participate to the decision-making process and be positive actors of change in their communities.


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