By Luke Nozicka and Jennifer Gonzalez / Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
Numerous topics regarding sexual advocacy and education, from contraceptive use to abortions, were discussed at the International Conference on Family Planning in late January. And while experts flew to Nusa Dua, Indonesia, from all over the world, there was one general consensus: world leaders must include youth in conversations and decisions about family planning.
“It is so important … to engage in open dialogue with young people in general and ensure that their voices are heard and that they are included — not as tokens, not as examples of ‘OK, let’s find the youth who can speak for two minutes’ — but really link, leverage, integrate and create ownership,” Katja Iversen, CEO of Women Deliver, said during a panel she led with a handful of young leaders.
From SM Shaikat, a 26-year-old youth adviser who created an anti-dowry awareness program in Bangladesh, to Patrick Segawa, who founded a youth-led community organization that seeks to address sexual and reproductive issues in Uganda, hundreds of young people came to the fourth annual conference to make their voices heard.
Without being asked, many said policy makers often neglect young people’s ideas and thoughts about family planning. For Sarah McKee, 24, of Charlottesville, Virginia, it is crucial to involve the people that interventions are created for every step of the way. “Having everyone at the table and making sure it’s not tokenism, ya know?” said McKee, who works as a project associate at Management Sciences for Health who works with the Leadership, Management and Governance Project.
While getting involved with discussions is a good first step, Melisa Trad Malmod, who works with several youth groups in Argentina, said it is also important young people are “represented in the most diverse way possible.”
“In Argentina, youth is getting … to decision making places and everything,” she explained after speaking on the panel with Iversen. “But it’s totally used by politicians and usually young people that get there belong to the same party as the president or whatever, so the rest of the youth is not represented.”
As Iversen put it: “It is the opportunities and the needs and the choices of young people today who count for half the world’s population that will define the world not as only as we know it, but as we want it.”
Cover Photo of Melisa Trad Malmod, with credit to authors. This story was supported by funding from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.