Shanshan He: Leading the Way for Young People

It all started when I hadn’t seen one girl for a couple of months. I was told her boyfriend had broken up with her because she was pregnant. Then the rumors started. “She borrowed money, she is probably going to take an abortion.” “She should be expelled from school.” “Her parents were angry and they beat her.”

I felt sad that young people weren’t being given the chance to receive comprehensive sex education at school and learn how to protect ourselves. I was outraged that when a girl found herself in these circumstances, people and society simply criticized her behavior rather than providing help and supporting her.

When I first participated in an event hosted by UNFPA in 2014, I was astonished to learn the tremendous number of adolescent girls giving birth every year – 7.3 million in developing countries. In China, 4 out of every 100 unmarried girls aged 15 -24 become pregnant, and almost 90% of those have an abortion.

Taking into account the huge population in China, I cannot imagine how many young people are suffering due to a lack of information and biased gender attitudes.

What youth leadership means to me

I started to volunteer at the China Family Planning Association (CFPA) – an IPPF Member Association – as a youth peer educator. I travelled to different provinces and cities providing training on sexual and reproductive health and rights to young people.

Next, I worked with Dance4life as an international trainer. I delivered Journey4life – a programme designed to build young people’s social and emotional competences so they are able to make healthy choices about their lives and feel confident about their future.

Through my interaction with different generations, I gradually realized that leadership is something that happens within yourself. You feel confident about your life, can see a different world, and are empowered to make changes.

Shanshan He, IPPF Board Member

Being a young leader at IPPF

20% of IPPF’s board must be represented by young people under the age of 25. I was elected to the board of my Member Association, the East and South East Asia & Oceania Region, and the global board. I attend meetings, participate in discussions and vote on the important matters – just as any other member.

My fellow youth representatives and I struggled when we first entered this unfamiliar territory, and had a difficult time finding our position.

Were we supposed to comment and participate solely on youth-related issues? Or should we engage with all the matters and discussions? When we speak, which hat are we wearing – young people who receive services, young activists on the ground, or youth leaders shaping the rules?

We learned that we could define our role. It was important to keep reminding ourselves of our focus and shifting hats to ensure more young people are truly represented.

We didn’t elect a chair among the youth representatives. Instead, the youth meeting is chaired by all the members in rotation. We also share the reporting and presentation responsibilities. This shared leadership approach avoids power dynamics and makes sure we don’t forget why we are all here.

Having been through the journey in IPPF, I realized that there is no point waiting until we ‘grow older’ to be a leader.

Leadership has nothing to do with age or gender. We are the leaders, now and in the future: here and beyond!

After Disaster Struck Indonesia, I Volunteered to Help

When an earthquake struck Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, on 28 September 2018 at around six in the afternoon, I was in a shop around the area of Tondo, East Palu, buying snacks with two of my friends.

I heard a roar, and seconds later the ground swayed. There were people riding motorbikes falling on the streets. I rushed home to the hilly area of town.

Along the way I saw many people already on the side of the road crying. Fear enveloped my heart. I wanted to get home soon.

Once I arrived, I saw a cracked building with its contents scattered. That night there was another earthquake. I was forced to sleep on the road in front of my house.

Previously, I had ventured into the house to pick up a sleeping bag and change of clothes. Four more earthquakes came after that. I tried to call father and my brother many times but I couldn’t contact either of them.

People started to come up from the coastal area. Men were carrying gallons of mineral water and many were wounded and drenched.

We heard that there had been a massive tsunami on the coastal area. Hearing the news, I cried hysterically. I was now even more afraid, because my father lived on the coast.

I almost ventured down to find my father. However, my neighbors and friends tried to calm me down and convinced me not to go right away.

At five o’clock the next morning, I rushed to look for my father. When I arrived, I saw there was no house standing. The cars were all badly damaged by buildings.

I saw a lot of dead bodies. This made me cry and keep looking for my father until I met a teenager, who said he was on the mountain. I ran up to about five kilometers from the location of the tsunami. Then, finally, I found my father.

A month after the disaster, I was invited to join Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association (IPPA) in Central Sulawesi as a youth volunteer, to provide counseling on reproductive health as well as HIV.

I thought to myself, this activity is noble and I can help others this way. I have knowledge about HIV from my Intra-Campus Organization at university. Now, I can share this knowledge with my peers so that they can protect themselves for the sake of their future.

I told myself: I’m still able to undergo activities, I have complete organs, why don’t I use this to help people in need?

Who else will help them, if not people who care about the lives of friends affected by this disaster?

In addition to providing reproductive health and HIV counseling with other IPPA youth volunteers, I advocate for the rights of young people. After they have had counseling, we ask what obstacles the youth experience. We also listen to the complaints they have, such as lack of clean water or being harassed.

After listening to the young people, I – along with other volunteers – follow up on the issue to the concerned institute. This provides security and comfort for youth, and means that their sexual and reproductive health and rights are being fulfilled.

Written by Indri Walean, Youth Volunteer at IPPA Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. 

Contraceptive Funding in Crisis

On this World Contraception Day, some 214 million women and girls in developing regions have an unmet need for modern contraception. These are women and girls who want to avoid a pregnancy but are not using a modern method of contraception. While the reasons for this are multiple, the costs and availability of contraception remain major barriers. 

Access to contraception is a basic human right. Governments affirmed women’s right to have access to safe, effective and affordable methods of contraception of their choice 24 years ago, at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. In 2015, in the landmark Sustainable Development Goals, governments pledged to ensure universal access to family planning by 2030.

Yet, three years on, global funding for contraceptives is in crisis. There is a major gap between needs for funding for contraceptives and the resources provided by both domestic and donor governments. In low- and middle-income countries out-of-pocket payments by individuals account for more than 80% of all spending on contraceptives. Domestic governments only provide around 8% of spending, while donors fund 10%.   

Out-of-pocket spending is an inequitable form of financing health services. Those least able to afford it carry most of the cost burden. The impact on household finances exacerbates inequalities and pushes people further into poverty. The gender implication is huge. Women and girls rely heavily on access to contraceptives and reproductive healthcare, and yet many do not have the financial means.

Demand for contraceptives is expected to increase, which will further widen existing funding gaps. Estimates of the difference between today’s spending on contraceptives and the cost of meeting projected needs in low- and middle-income countries in 2020 show an additional funding gap of US$290m if current trends in use continue. Unless domestic or donor government finance increases substantially, most of this gap will have to be met by relying on user fees.

Domestic governments have the main responsibility for ensuring access to contraception, yet donors continue to play an important role, particularly in the world’s poorest countries. In the 31 lowest income countries, donors currently finance 65% of all contraceptives, while domestic governments fund 7%. Individuals’ out-of-pocket spending accounts for 28%.

Yet, while donor funding remains essential, it has faced a downward trend in recent years. Funding from the United States, the largest family planning donor, has been fairly stable but is now at risk. Funding pledges made by European and other donors in 2017 in support of the She Decides initiative and at the July London Family Planning Summit are promising, but it is too soon to tell whether they will bring a reversal in longer term funding trends

Domestic governments must live up to their responsibility to increase their funding and ensure access to contraception and healthcare. Yet, donors must also continue and step up their support. Millions of women and girls depend on it.

Raffaela Dattler, Financing for Development Advisor, IPPF

Learn more about contraceptives and how they work here.