Noemi, 24, is the youth network co-founder and coordinator for IPPF’s Member Association, Santé Sexuelle Suisse/Sexuelle Gesundheit Schweiz. Here, she shares her experiences and thoughts on the impact COVID-19 is having on sexual healthcare and young people, and talks about how the crisis can offer opportunities.
The Impact on Sexual Healthcare
Under normal circumstances, I’d be conducting strategic planning and advocacy work. I would be planning and implementing actions, campaigns and events for the Youth Network, and coaching, motivating and training youth volunteers.
The COVID-19 situation is impacting and intensifying my work. We have to focus on the most essential and basic needs concerning SRHR, which are now under threat. We have had to communicate as quickly as possible that abortion services are still available in all Swiss hospitals. The abortion rate dropped tremendously at the start of the pandemic, because women were afraid to go to the hospitals or didn’t know that abortion services are still provided. We contacted all the family planning centers that provide services concerning sexual health. We wanted to gather best practices in these times concerning the provision of contraception, including emergency contraception. We are closely monitoring the situation as best as possible to intervene in the media or get in contact with hospitals and pharmacies as soon as possible to keep people updated on services.
Getting Creative on Social Media
Next to the monitoring and political work, I started a creative initiative during the COVID-19 isolation. With our Youth Network we created an artistic competition on our FB and Instagram platforms on issues such as masturbation, menstruation, coming out, female genitalia, and pornography.
The aim is to enhance creativity and allow young people to reflect on sexual and reproductive health and rights in a creative way. The aim was also to offer something fun and positive in this difficult time. As a prize, we are awarding sex toys from a small queer sex store in Switzerland.
The project has a lot of success; there are a lot of young people in Switzerland participating and thanking us for this initiative. Next to that we inform the young people in Switzerland through our social media channels about sexual health services which are still in place.
Opportunities in a Crisis
I’m sincerely hoping that this crisis helps to find sustainable solutions to problems and gaps in the health system, particularly concerning sexual and reproductive health, which have become visible during the pandemic.
We could use this crisis for good and advocate for better access to abortion care. It should be made possible to consult via telephone or get medical receipts with online forms. Moreover, the temporary management of medical abortions – with mifepristone and misoprostol – at home during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy following a telephone or electronic medical consultation, rather than having to take the first dose at a health facility, like it is implemented right now in the UK, could become a long-term solution to improve the access to abortion.
Women’s health and reproductive rights don’t end during a pandemic and we must continue to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights and improve health and gender equality for all during and after the pandemic.
A crisis like this offers an opportunity for innovative and sustainable solutions. It also provides a reclaimed sense of shared humanity, where people realize what matters most: the health and safety of their loved ones, and by extension the health and safety of their community, country and fellow global citizens.
And basic health and safety requires comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care.