In 2012 I was fortunate enough to be selected as a Youth Leader for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Global Youth Forum, held in Bali, Indonesia. The Forum was preceded by extensive interaction at national and global levels on the themes of staying healthy; comprehensive education; families, youth-rights and well-being, including sexuality; transition to decent work; and leadership and meaningful participation.
The conference was one of many global youth conferences being held in the lead up to the ICPD 2014 Review and the Post 2015 Agenda. Around the world consultations with governments, NGOs and civil society are taking place with the goal of documenting and developing a global dialogue on population, poverty, universal healthcare, sexual and reproductive health and rights, violence against women, gender equality, sustainable development, climate change and environment and much more. This is a critical moment for positive change and development to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges and build a better future for all, especially girls and young women.
More than half of the world’s population is under the age of 25 and the number of young people is rising fastest in those parts of the world with the lowest economic growth. While it is clear that it is time to place youth rights at the heart of development, progress on youth issues is still lagging in virtually every corner of the world.
As the International Conference on Family Planning is currently underway in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia discussions are taking place around youth sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Girls and young women must be at the heart of these discussions as this critical target group are most vulnerable to violent attacks of their rights and devastating human rights violations.
Violence against young women and SRHR of young women are intricately linked. Acts of sexual violence are a direct attack on sexual rights, impacting on both physical and mental health and the ability exercise one’s sexuality. Likewise, without access to non-judgmental, confidential and evidence-based sexual and reproductive health information and services, young women remain vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortion and sexually transmitted infections. Every minute a young woman is newly infected with HIV and only one in five young women in developing countries know the basic facts about HIV (UNAIDS, 2011).
Many young women are confronted with the consequences of early and forced marriage and child bearing. Adolescent pregnancies often described as ‘a child birthing another child’ account for 18% of all births in the Latin America and the Caribbean regions alone. Young women who give birth before the age of 18 faced increased risk of complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Young women must have access to comprehensive sexuality and HIV education, reproductive health services and commodities, and the ability to decide freely when to marry and have children, if the right to health is to become a reality. All forms of violence that impact on this right must be eradicated.
Cultural and religious barriers such as parental and spousal consent, and early and forced marriages, should never prevent access to family planning, safe and legal abortion, and other reproductive health services –recognising that young people have autonomy over their own bodies, pleasures, and desire.
To achieve a sustainable and healthy future for all peoples and the environment, young people’s voices and ideas for change must be heard and incorporated into laws and policies that directly or indirectly impact our human rights.
Featured image: Dana Smillie / World Bank