By Anita Nyanjong and Claudia Lawson
It is now slightly more than 15 years since the Assembly of the Heads of States of the African Union adopted the Africa Youth Charter in Banjul, the Gambia. Although this Charter provides a strategic framework towards consolidating an approach for the enforcement of meaningful youth involvement in Africa’s development agenda, the ideals of this Charter are yet to be realized by young people in their diversities.
Indeed, Africa’s development agenda must be linked to the health and well-being of its young people.
The United Nations World Population Prospects has documented an incremental growth in young people between the ages of 15 – 24 in Africa since 1952 and this growth has continued to escalate throughout the years. The report also projects that by 2030, over half of the countries in Africa will have more than a 40 per cent increase in the number of young people. These figures demonstrate the need for more meaningful engagement of young people who will be the driving force behind the continent’s development agenda.
The sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young people in Africa is an agenda that requires a thorough reflection and a particular prioritization by all stakeholders. Young people’s sexual and reproductive health needs are most often overlooked due to a myriad of factors, including customs and taboos which impede their access to contraceptives, parental or spousal consent legislations, Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services that are inadequate or ill-adapted to cater to the diversity of needs of young people. In addition, adolescents and young people lack information on menstrual hygiene, different types of STIs, contraception, prevention of sexual violence, among other topics. Yet this information is vital in enabling them to make informed decisions and equiping them with skills they need to fully enjoy their SRHR. This problematic situation has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated the vulnerability of young people, with many exposed to sexual and gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, and as well as the closure of clinics and other emergency support services. As many school closed, adolescent girls and young women have been particularly affected and teenage pregnancies have risen as a result of sexual violence and a lack of information on SRH education.
Consequently, this year, as the African Union dedicates the month of November to celebrate Africa’s Youth under the theme » Defining the Future Today: Youth-Led Solutions for Building the Africa We Want”, it is essential that the continent reflects and acts on its commitment towards young people as highlighted in its development agenda 2063 and specifically in the Africa Youth Charter. Young people in Africa are not vulnerable, but they are made vulnerable when they are not involved, heard, engaged, allowed to lead, able to share their ideas of where they want to see the continent in the following years and provided with the knowledge and information necessary to make their own choices and to determine their destiny, particularly concerning their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Africa is not short of young people who can lead, provide the change we want, and support advancing Africa’s development agenda. In Ghana, the Youth Action Movement (YAM), a nationwide network of young people leading and promoting young people’s SRHR, has defined itself as a movement by and for Ghanaian youth. The movement’s advocacy on SRHR information and services and young people has led to an increase in young people taking leadership positions, campaigning and engaging the government on sexual and reproductive health. The YAM has advocated for a positive change in access to youth friendly services at the community level. This has led to an increase in the number of clinics providing youth-friendly SRHR services in Ghana. The movement has also complemented government efforts by providing SRHR information and services to the general population, particularly adolescents, women, men and vulnerable groups, including persons living with a disability. The YAM is also actively involved in linking young people to services through the outreach programme organized by the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana programme entitled « YENKASA », meaning ‘let’s talk’ in local Twi language. Since its establishment in 2020, the contact center has responded to the SRHR needs and challenges of thousands of young people in Ghana.
The youth in Africa continue to demonstrate that they are capable and ready to be entrusted drivers and partners in Africa’s development agenda, including in the field of SRHR. It is now for Africa’s leaders and institutions to give them the trust and the space that they have strived for and earned.
Anita Nyanjong is the Global Lead, Youth at International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).
Claudia Lawson is the Youth Action Movement (YAM) President, Ghana.