Youth Advocacy in Action (Spring 2023)
Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Christina Chilimba, a long-standing PAI partner and the founder and executive director of All for Youth — a youth-led and youth-focused organization in Malawi. During her visit to PAI, Christina shared her inspiring and urgent perspectives on youth advocacy and sexual and reproductive health and rights with champions and advocates, noting:
“We need to have a behavior change in terms of how we view young people. We have to come together as equals, be given equal opportunities, and work together as equals.”
As Christina’s words powerfully underscore, the voice and role of youth are essential for progress, and investing in youth advocates is about their growth and development and ensuring they have an equal seat at the table. When they have the right support and opportunities, young people and adolescents are the most effective advocates for their needs.
Youth advocates are uniquely positioned to drive meaningful community engagement and demand change. They are today’s leaders and will also protect and advance progress in the future. Our investments in young advocates today help build a strong, sustainable sexual and reproductive health and rights movement.
In this issue of the Catalyst, you will read about how PAI and our partners in three countries are supporting and investing in youth advocates to advance health and rights in their communities. Their efforts have led to major gains, from enabling young leaders to dispense emergency contraception in Malawi to increasing a county’s family planning budget by fivefold in Kenya.
Because of your support, PAI and our partners can offer youth advocates hands on training, strategic collaboration and direct funding, which is critical to ensuring these frequently under-resourced organizations can grow and thrive.
We are so inspired by the extraordinary resilience and creativity of our youth partners like Christina, and we thank you for standing with us as we continue to fight for every young person’s fundamental right to direct their own future.
Nabeeha Kazi Hutchins
President and CEO
When young people in Laikipia County, Kenya, have questions about their sexual and reproductive health, they are often afraid to seek answers. And with a teenage pregnancy rate well above the national average (27% of adolescent girls between ages 15 and 19 have had at least one child or are pregnant), the fear and shame that prevent youth from getting the care they need can have long-term impacts on their futures.
Pathways Policy Institute (PPI) saw an opportunity to empower young people to be effective advocates for their health needs and, with support from PAI, launched the JASIRI Youth Champion Initiative.
JASIRI — which means courageous in Swahili — trains 18- to 24-year-olds on the specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART) advocacy approach so they can define their needs and develop clear goals. PPI then helps the young advocates develop and submit memos outlining specific requests for improving health services and facilitates opportunities to meet with decision-makers.
To ensure the needs of younger adolescents aren’t overlooked, JASIRI members also participate in PPI’s school-based outreach, speaking with teenagers about puberty, menstrual health and other changes they are (or soon will be) experiencing. Because they are close in age, students feel comfortable sharing their needs and concerns with JASIRI champions, who use these conversations to help inform their advocacy asks.
These efforts are leading to some big advocacy wins for JASIRI, including seeing the county’s budget for modern contraceptives go from 800,000 Kenyan shillings to 2.8 million in 2021, followed by an increase to 4 million the following year.
Since its launch in Laikipia County in 2021, JASIRI has continued to grow, expanding to three counties in 2022 and eight counties this year. More than 75 champions have completed the program so far, with several going on to launch their own youth-led organizations.
By giving young people a way to meaningfully engage in the advocacy process, PPI is making sure they have a seat at the table so they can shape decisions that impact their health and lives.
Health centers are supposed to provide youth-friendly services and be safe spaces for adolescents to get the care and information they need so they can make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. But what if the facilities aren’t delivering on these mandates?
To address this challenge in Malawi, Pakachere Institute of Health and Development Communication (Pakachere) is helping adolescents understand their rights and empowering them to advocate for high-quality, nonjudgmental services from health care providers.
With technical and financial support from PAI, Pakachere has trained more than 65 young people on SMART advocacy — an approach for identifying clear, attainable goals and strategies for achieving them.
Through these trainings, youth club members from a rural area in the Nkhotakota district identified a significant barrier that was affecting their access to care: The provider responsible for youth-friendly services at the local facility was not concerned with the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people, and even refused to provide condoms to them.
The young advocates mobilized, coming together to lobby the district’s youth-friendly health services coordinator to find a solution to their problem. Thanks to their advocacy, a new youth-friendly provider was brought in, and young people in that community now have a trusted resource for their sexual and reproductive health needs and questions.
Having a trusted provider is an important step in accessing care, but what if you can’t reach a facility in the first place?
The remote area of Masewe has some of the country’s highest rates of early and teenage pregnancies. Recognizing how hard it was for adolescents to get to the nearest facility, Pakachere trained advocates to engage with health care providers on the best way to ensure young people could access family planning services.
As a result of these efforts, the youth-friendly health services coordinator created a pathway for young people to access sexual and reproductive commodities, including having youth leaders trained on how to administer emergency contraception and distribute condoms directly to their peers.
By building the capacity of young people in Malawi, Pakachere is empowering them to advocate for their right to respectful and accessible sexual and reproductive health care.
From back-to-back events on Capitol Hill to face-to-face meetings with lawmakers, your support fuels our work in Washington, D.C., as we fight for U.S. funding and policy that uphold the health and rights of women and young people around the world.
On March 23, PAI joined fellow advocates and several members of Congress, including Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), for the reintroduction of the Abortion is Health Care Everywhere (AHCE) Act. PAI played a critical role in crafting and securing co-sponsors for the bill, which would permanently repeal the Helms amendment and allow U.S. funding to be used for comprehensive reproductive health care, including safe abortion services, abroad. (Photo by PAI)
In the final days of March, both the House and Senate reintroduced the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (Global HER) Act, with support from PAI. This legislation would permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule — a policy that, when in place, disproportionately harms adolescents and other at-risk populations and communities. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who led the Senate introduction of the bill, invited PAI to weigh in on the impacts of the Global Gag Rule in a press release from her office. PAI also spearheaded the creation of a toolkit enabling advocates, legislators and supporters of global sexual and reproductive health and rights to make their voices heard on social media.
Last month, Abebe Kebede from the Consortium of Reproductive Health Associations (CORHA) in Ethiopia and Amos Mwale from the Centre for Reproductive Health and Education (CRHE) in Zambia joined members of the PAI team for a series of meetings on Capitol Hill. By facilitating discussions like these, PAI creates opportunities for partners to speak directly with lawmakers and their staff about what is needed from U.S. funding for family planning and reproductive health, as well as provide a firsthand perspective on how U.S. policies impact communities abroad. (Photo by Tom Sandner)
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For more information on ways to support PAI’s work, please contact Elena Garofalo at email@example.com or +1 (202) 557-3400.