The Power of Young People: Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health and Policy Change After the International Conference on Family Planning

Originally posted on the PRB blog.

(March 2014) Youth were everywhere at the November 2013 International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The young people brought energy and excitement, and played a big role in focusing attention on youth sexual and reproductive health and rights. But one key question remains: How can those who work on youth sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) help policymakers, donors, and others translate that excitement into action and change? Those of us motivated by this youthful energy have been working to build on the opportunities that emerged from the ICFP.

With the goal of advancing and improving policies that impact young people and their sexual health, PRB co-sponsored an e-forum with the Interagency Youth Working Group, moderated by FHI360 and supported by USAID, Pathfinder, and the Youth Health and Rights Coalition. From Feb. 4-6, nine discussants—including four young people, along with donors, programmers, and policy experts—joined in conversations about youth SRHR, policy, and youth engagement. You can read the discussion in the e-forum archive.

One recurring point of discussion was the importance of “meaningful youth engagement” to ensure that policies and programs are responsive to the needs of young people. How can we make certain that youth voices are included and listened to at every step in the process, from development through implementation? How can we ensure that young people’s diverse experiences are accounted for, especially when marginalized youth can be the hardest to reach? How can we create opportunities for direct interaction between policymakers and young people?

Discussants agreed that the challenge now is to channel the energy and interest from the ICFP into substantive policy change. We need to make room for youth voices in the policy change process, because as the youth discussants in this e-forum have shown, young people are powerful spokespeople. Connecting young people directly with policymakers will be a key strategy for promoting youth sexual and reproductive health.

Kate Gilles is a policy analyst in International Programs at the Population Reference Bureau.