Optimistic Youth

Restless Development was in Johannesburg in December 2018, leading a Regional Consultation on Youth-Led Accountability powered by The United Nations Popular Fund and She Decides with 23 young leaders from East and Southern Africa who are experts in sexual reproductive health and rights campaigning and advocacy.  Kalkidan Lakew Belayneh was at the workshop.

I am Kalkidan Lakew Belayneh, a medical doctor from Ethiopia. My passion is sexual and reproductive health rights especially focusing on family planning provision.

My dream is to see a world where all women are empowered to choose a life they want without facing obstacles from their reproductive roles. This is far from reality in my country, where the majority of the population live in rural areas with limited access to education and health care. Women are still facing challenges from a triple workload of reproductive, domestic work and productive roles. They often work alongside their husbands in the farms and fields to earn a living, while covering all the domestic chores at home and raising children.

Women have minimum say on their reproductive life which leads them to have multiple children without years apart which can endanger their health as well as create an unwanted significant lifestyle change. Having witnessed this reality whilst working in a rural area, I have developed a keen interest towards advocacy of family planning.

Family planning is a game changer for society. I am so happy when I see girls in high schools and Universities meeting their potential. Seeing them drop out due to pregnancy related problems is painful, therefore I consider these girls the key target for my advocacy.  The contributing factors for the challenges are complex and intertwined including the medical providers’ attitude. Through the research I conducted, I have learned there is a knowledge and attitude gap which has helped me to understand the stance of young physicians’ on family planning and will  serve as a stepping stone fact for decision makers.

Through my interests, I was able to work with Restless Development which has given me a chance to meet young people and learn from their youth-led accountability work in Africa and all of the world. I was fortunate enough to participate at the 2018 International Family Planning Conference in Rwanda with Restless Development to co-lead workshop and roundtable. The experience was eye-opening. I learnt what different youth-led organisations are doing to improve SRHR and family planning and also saw Restless Developments commitment to young people as a driving force against poverty.

I also took part in Restless Developments consultation on youth led accountability on SRHR at the Regional office of UNFPA in Johannesburg which further widened my horizons while being able to share my success stories and setbacks. Meeting young leaders and advocates of SRHR from the East and South of Africa during the consultation opened my eyes in a diverse way. We all had similar passions and are strong believers of gender equality which made our interactions easy.

What surprised me the most is the fact that we all face similar challenges when we raise the issue of SRHR.  As a continent we face similar economic problems. We are bound to strong traditional and cultural values that limit us from discussing and addressing the problems. Deep rooted religious backgrounds also dictate us when we talk about sexual and reproductive rights.

But it’s not only our challenges that’s similar, it’s our opportunities too. Our continent is exploding with young people, as part of this generation we are taking a step to contribute the way we can to promote health for all and gender equality. If we unite and work together to abolish the system that works against reproductive health and rights, we are not far from seeing a world where every girl reaches her full potential and her reproductive needs are met.

Sustainable Development Goals will fully be met when, and only when, young people are the major key players in achieving them.

Another positive is that major stakeholders like UN agencies are keen to involve young people in every way possible and are fully committed to take it to the next level. Having met the Regional Director of UNFPA for East and Southern Africa Dr. Julitta Onabanjo and witnessing her passionately asking our input how to engage more young people in 2019, the UNFPA programs agenda has sparked a hope in me regarding the future of the youth.

This is the time we should rise, to get our voices heard, to put pressure on decision makers to fulfill their commitment and to be the leaders in our respective fields to meet the goals.  Then, no one can stop us. After all, we are not the future, we are the present

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Follow Kalkidan on Twitter: @kallakkew


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Optimistic Youth

by wearerestless Reading time: 3 min