Young people leading and calling for change
This partner perspective comes from the Civil Society Engagement Mechanism. We're delighted to introduce a set of stories collected by the CSEM to show perspectives from civil society actors and civil society organizations all over the world to mark the first UN UHC Day and to demonstrate civil society commitment to work towards achieving UHC.
CSEM and partners seek to promote representativeness and equity on the road to UHC. The views expressed, however, belong solely to each blog author.
By Richard Dzikunu
Advocacy Associate, Primary Health Care Initiative at PAI.
Reproductive health needs in Benin are alarming, particularly for young adolescents living in rural areas with little to no education. The percentage of girls aged 15 to 19 who have had a pregnancy or who are pregnant is three times higher in rural areas than in urban settings. Among girls aged 15-19 with no education, 32% were or are pregnant, compared to 3% for those with secondary education. A 2016 Guttmacher report shows that Benin is one of the countries in the region where sexual, reproductive health and contraceptive needs of adolescents have not been adequately addressed by the government. Cllective efforts to bring the attention of the Benin government to the urgent need for universal health for adolescents are being led by young people, who are coming together to call for increased investment in adolescent sexual and reproductive health (SRH).
Anicet David Gnahoui, Rapporteur of the Committee on Education, Culture, Social Affairs and Information and Communication Technologies of the Benin Youth Parliament, and Mariette Montcho, President of the West African Network of Young Women Leaders of Benin represent young people driving change.
These young people are amplifying the voices of unheard and marginalized groups in Benin calling for the removal of restrictions on women and girls’ in accessing their full reproductive rights. They call for increased coverage of reproductive health services for young people at low or no cost. The Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, an international organization of young people committed to promoting adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive rights at the national, regional and international levels, is working with David and Mariette. This collaboration supports a project in Benin to amplify advocacy efforts to improve the sexual and reproductive health of young people. Both are calling on the Benin government to invest in youth centres and health facilities that provide information and services to young people.
As rapporteur for the Benin Youth Parliament, David and his colleagues are directing their advocacy to the highest decision-making institution in Benin. They have become essential actors in the process of exchange and advocacy between Benin legislators on improving the sexual and reproductive health of young people. Mariette, on the other hand, is advancing dialogue through her participation in decision-making processes in the sub-region. For her, geographical, economic, legal and cultural barriers that prevent access to SRH should be removed not only for people in Benin but in the sub-region.
The advocacy efforts of David and Mariette in Benin is a call to other young people and youth-led organisations in not to relent in the push to hold their governments accountable to invest in their reproductive health and rights. The African Union’s Maputo Plan of Action and the Africa Health Strategy 2016-2030, provide frameworks to achieve universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health rights .
Advocates must follow up on the commitment made and hold leaders to account to their implementation. All actors which include civil society organizations, youth-led organizations and other stakeholders at the forefront of promoting SRHR for adolescents and young people in Benin, the sub-region and the rest of Africa need to work together. Collectively, these stakeholders can forge partnerships, share resources and get involved with health financing decisions at the national and continental level to facilitate the vision of achieving universal health coverage for all, including adolescents and young people by 2030.