Gender Equality, Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights

ICFP2015: When the Going Gets Tough

Photo Credit: World Bank, https://www.flickr.com/photos/worldbank/21978712908/

Photo Credit: World Bank

There are some moments in life that sound and feel so similar that for a second, it’s like you are back in time reliving that exact same experience. You work incredibly hard to see your vision take off and circumstances that are beyond your control seemingly sway you off course. But I am writing to remind you that, that’s only true if you allow it to happen. You always have a choice to keep going, especially when you know your answer to the question: “why do you do what you do?”

This week, so many people from around the world had their eyes on Nusa Dua, Bali as they made arrangements to take part in the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP 2015). Young advocates, grassroots workers, communication experts, ministers, policy makers and practitioners were all ready to deliberate on this important topic that greatly impacts everyone’s lives. But as it happens, Mt. Rinjani had a plan of its own! A volcano eruption on the mountain led to a cloud of ash that ultimately caused the postponement of the conference.

We all greatly empathize with the organizers who had already put so much effort into making this event a success. As we express our concerns and stand in solidarity with the people of Indonesia, and wish safe travels to all those inconvenienced en route to the conference; we need to keep the conversation on family planning going.

On my previous Girls’ Globe post on the SDG13 and climate change, I emphasized the close correlation between population, health and environment and the need for effective gender mainstreaming for building resilient communities.  I also highlighted that we have established empowering women and girls is our ticket out of poverty. Well, that is entirely impossible without due focus on family planning, a key component of global development that has huge impacts on the performance of all the other key sectors.

More young people are entering their reproductive years than at any point in our history. Without the proper sexual reproductive health information and services, this large number of youth will face a range of problems that will highly affect their socio-economic wellbeing. This is bad news for the entire society!

Although the needs of young people living in urban areas is far from saturated, the huge service variability between rural and urban health centers is a big concern to me. Lack of youth-friendly approaches as well as meaningful involvement of young people in deciding our future undoubtedly compromises the goals our world has set for family planning. There is also a harder-to-reach and marginalized youth population that would greatly benefit from more targeted service expansion. In doing so, we need to apply innovative solutions to properly contextualize our strategy to address the unique needs of this segment. Passion and innovation are two things us young people aren’t short of, and we will continue to echo, “nothing for us, without us” as we fight for the rightful space for us to apply our solutions.

Keeping girls in school and providing sexual reproductive health information and services is a two-way street. Investing in family planning also means improving the educational attainment of women and girls thereby adding an invaluable segment of the population into the work force. Although our task doesn’t end there and we continue to challenge patriarchal norms and fight for women’s rights, this surely is the foundation for a healthy, productive and resilient society.

Unmet need for contraceptives among women is a major issue we are all trying to tackle. The problem is not only associated with lack of information, it is also highly influenced by core factors related to health infrastructure, service affordability, availability of method of choice coupled with unique needs that substantially vary based on age, geography and culture. This is especially relevant to a country like mine, Ethiopia, which is a symbol of diversity and requires carefully planned strategies that are workable at the different regions and even lower levels.

Harmful traditional practices such as abduction and early marriage and resulting complications further deter our progress in this field. As indispensable as it is to implement a rights-based approach, we are also living in a community where faith-based and community organizations and religious leaders have more power in influencing the public. We need to make sure we give due emphasis to both as we plan and implement our programs.

Married adolescents living in a household where men are the sole decision makers require us to creatively partner with husbands. We have to work with fathers and bring them closer to their children and their children’s mothers. But this by no means is a trade-off between working with men or working with women. We have to remember that mothers also play as key-a-role in shaping masculinity-identities as fathers do. Bottomline, applying the strategy of working with boys and men can sometimes be a slippery concept and it goes far beyond mere inclusion.

I hope we can keep up the momentum. I look forward to see us all on the new dates of ICFP 2015. But to finish with a quote from Melinda Gates, “No volcano can interrupt the conversation on family planning”.

by

Yeabsira is a young leader from Ethiopia who holds a BA Degree in Economics from Arba Minch University. She currently serves as the Country Coordinator of the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC). Yeabsira has impressive leadership track record backed by a well demonstrated grassroots work that complements her international advocacy efforts. She is one of the youth leaders of the joint British Council-EU Horn of Africa Leadership & Learning for Action (HOLLA) program, is Youth Champion of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and PHI's SRHR Initiative (YCI), and is among the Right Start Foundation's “A Common Word among the Youth” ACWAY 100 fellows. She is passionate about the strategy of male involvement and has chaired the MenEngage Africa Youth Advisory Board for two years.