Providing access to sexual and reproductive health education is critical to the health and well being of an entire society, particularly its girls and women. Yes, there are text books that have volumes of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information, but these lifesaving lessons are not reaching the people that need it most – young people. Young people in Pakistan and India are often shockingly uninformed and lack the tools necessary to prevent risky behavior. Teachers and parents do not address these issues,leaving adolescents without the critical knowledge they need to protect their health.As well, what material is available is often found in text books,which do not resonate with a generation accustomed to accessing information online.
For India and Pakistan,itis essential to educate and provide all young people with accurate, comprehensive information on sexual and reproductive health – as well as rights.We are faced with these challenges across the regionand around the world. For such an important issue, we often have far too little data to inform smart policy making. The most recent statistics available on knowledge of sexual and reproductive health in India are a decade old and show that that only 20% of 15–24-year-old women have comprehensive knowledge of HIV/AIDS. This gap in knowledge makes it clear that we need to invest more in the health, rights and well being of girls and women both inthe region and throughout the world.
If we filled these global gaps in sexual and reproductive health servives, education and rights — and provided women with the full range of pregnancy care they are entitled to — we could reduce unintended pregnancy by 70% and unsafe abortions by 74% according to UNFPA and Guttmacher Institute. We also know that when girls and women can choose when and where to have children, they are more likely to reach their full potential – and so are their families, communities and economies. For these reasons, we owe it to our mothers, sisters and daughters, as well as our families and communities, to do more and do better — and young people are leading the change. In India, a youth-led development agency called “Restless Development” is working to educate rural youth in Bihar on comprehensive sexuality education. Volunteer teachers, all young people, workin primary and secondary schools and use creative techniques, including drama, dance, and games to share accurate sexual and reproductive health care information with students.
Bringing this education directly to young people is imperative if we want to improve the sexual and reductive health of girls and women, and it’s not just happening in schools. A mobile app currently in development called “M-Sathi” provides comprehensive sexual education information to young people in both English and Hindi. With smartphone use booming throughout the region, the potential for impact from digital education is enormous.
We must approach health and development through a gender lens. And, we must look for solutions from every region, sector and generation – from a comprehensive mobile app that gamifies sexual and reproductive health education, to youth-led trainings that fill gaps in traditional school curriculum. These solutions and many more will be explored at the Women Deliver 2016 Conference taking place in Copenhagen in May. Global and local leaders, including Hina Jilani, Muhammad Yunus and Farhan Akhtar will stand alongside 5,000 world influencers and advocates—from the highest-levels of government to grassroots change-makers—to discuss how to deliver on promises to girls and women.
Crucially, a good 20% of attendees will be young people – and for good reason: young people aren’t just our tomorrow. They are the leaders of today, and must be given opportunities to drive change in their communities. With the endorsement of the recently launched Sustainable Development Goals – a set of UN goals adopted by 193 countries that aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all by 2030 – we can and must ensure that the global push to end poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change starts with every girl and woman, no matter where she lives, no matter her age. As they say, it is time to translate the “talk into walk” and turn speech lines into budget lines.
This International Women’s Day, let’s recognize the powerful solutions every young person and every generation has to offer. Let’s work smarter for girls and women everywhere.
Views expressed are personal
By Katja Iversen, Women Deliver CEO and Franklin Gnanamuthu, Women Deliver Young Leader & Restless Development Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator