The 2019 Women Deliver Conference was the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights and wellbeing of girls and women in the 21st century. More than 6,000 world leaders, influencers, advocates, academics, activists and journalists convened in Vancouver this week to accelerate progress for girls and women everywhere. To celebrate, Ms. is posting updates from the front lines.
Women Deliver, Girl Effect and the Government of Canada (Global Affairs Canada) announced a new research initiative Wednesday focused on engaging young people as researchers and advocates around sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The multi-country project will take place in India, Malawi and Rwanda and will engage youth as advisors, researchers and advocates. The initiative aims to generate insights that will shape the investment case for youth-friendly SRHR interventions—such as modern contraception or gender-based violence counseling. In addition, the results will equip young activists with the evidence needed to carry forward their own advocacy efforts.
“If we want youth policies and programs to work, and get bang for our investment buck, we need to involve youth all the way,” Katja Iversen, President/CEO of Women Deliver, said in a statement. “They are the experts on their own lives, and know what they need. They are the game-changers and the best spokespersons for their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Youth are the key to success, and we need to listen, learn, involve and take action accordingly.”
The project will rely on Girl Effect’s award-winning Technology Enabled Girl Ambassadors (TEGA) program—a mobile-based peer-to-peer research methodology where young women are trained to become fully qualified researchers within their communities.
“Our sector needs accurate, fast and authentic data and insights about young people, and the unique challenges they face, in order to design, iterate and evaluate programs to ensure they’re as effective as possible,” Jessica Odede, CEO of Girl Effect, explained. “TEGA’s unique approach unlocks conversations that might otherwise be lost or not included when collecting data in traditional ways, and ensures even the hardest to reach voices are included. Better yet, the TEGA program is a form of employment and empowerment for our young researchers too.”
Multiple data and knowledge gaps remain regarding youth sexual and reproductive health. Young people are often not engaged in shaping health services due to systematic barriers and persistent marginalization, even though initiatives that engage them throughout have the potential to better address the needs of communities in a sustainable way.
New research, funded by Global Affairs Canada, will equip decision-makers with the information they need to create more inclusive health systems. Through consultations, young people will be shaping the primary research question, and TEGAs will collect the corresponding data. A Youth Advisory Board on research will also facilitate input from Women Deliver Young Leaders—outstanding young advocates for gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women—on the initiative.
“Applying meaningful youth engagement to the research process, including implementation and dissemination, shifts power to young people themselves,” said Sruthi Chandrasekaran, researcher at Ibis Reproductive Health and Women Deliver Young Leader, in a statement. “Our movement must honor and trust young people as experts of their own sexual and reproductive rights.”
The initial research findings will be shared at the 25th Anniversary of the International Conference for Population and Development in Nairobi, Kenya.
“This research will come at a critical time in the world’s effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” noted the Honorable Maryam Monsef, Canada’s Minister of International Development and Minister for Women and Gender Equality. “By meaningfully engaging young people in research, we are better equipped to respond to adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health needs—which in turn creates healthier, more prosperous societies.”
Working alongside Global Affairs Canada and Girl Effect, Women Deliver will share this research with key decision-makers and policymakers—advocating for not only youth-vetted improvements to health services, but the consistent engagement of youth in the development of future SRHR programs. The findings will also inform advocacy and accountability efforts from the community level to the national level, which could range from consultations with policymakers to developing guidelines that require youth input on programs intended to serve them.
Communities and governments stand to gain a healthier and more engaged generation of youth in the process.