Leading Youth Advocacy Movements in the Wake of COVID-19

Nobody ever prepares you adequately for the long and winding road of leadership. One has to be brave enough to quickly rise to the challenge. For Evalin Karijo, her youth leadership role at Amref Health Africa – especially during this time of the pandemic – has put those skills to the test.

When Y-ACT (Youth in Action) was set up a few years ago, it was Amref Health Africa’s first fully youth-led initiative. It was designed for and by the youth. We knew that this was going to be exciting. Three years down the line, the energy and creativity of the youth has been more than anyone ever imagined. Y-ACT has been operating at a time when the role of young people in decision-making processes on issues that affect them is at its highest. Y-ACT is now one of the fastest-growing youth advocacy networks in the region. It also hosts the Youth4UHC Pan-African youth movement.

Before taking on the mantle at Y-ACT, I had spent two years in different leadership roles at Amref. At the time, I was the youngest project lead in the organisation.

Youth and COVID-19

During this pandemic, my experiences in adapting to changing times and leading teams to do so has come in handy.

The youth – in Kenya and across Africa – are likely to bear the biggest burden of the effects of COVID-19. We’re experiencing:

  • rapidly rising cases of unemployment,
  • inadequate access to routine health services,
  • and increasing cases of sexual and gender-based violence among vulnerable adolescents and youth.

A study that we recently carried out with youth highlights how the pandemic is affecting the youth in Kenya.

Youth are great catalysts of change

While the youth are vulnerable in this crisis, it’s inspiring to see their innovation. Young activists and youth volunteers are constantly generating ideas in their spaces to contribute to ending this pandemic.

Young people want to be at the forefront. They want to feel heard and consulted about policies, services and systems that are developed for them.

To amplify the youth voices during the pandemic, Y-ACT is

  • working with youth advocacy movements to co-create solutions,
  • lead teams to work with policy-makers,
  • and ensure that youth are meaningfully engaged in the fight to end the pandemic.

The #ChampionsKwaGround campaign, launched by Y-ACT, has been amplifying voices and efforts of youth and youth-led organisations. They are making incredible contributions in the fight to end COVID-19.

The campaign features youth movements who have taken to digital media to make their voices heard. They spur collective action on COVID-19 and on their priorities, at a time when everybody needs collective action the most.

The campaign also features young health workers on the frontlines of ending the pandemic. It has featured grassroots youth-led organisations leveraging their creativity through arts, murals, and music to create awareness on COVID-19 and influence youth to adopt positive behaviour change to stop the spread of the pandemic.

Other youth advocates at grassroots level innovate and develop income-generating activities including manufacturing home-made soap and masks, while ensuring that they stay safe.

Youth-developed resources and tools: COVID-19 and beyond

Y-ACT has further developed an innovative info-site. It is designed by Kenyan youth and for youth to meet their growing needs as the pandemic continues to evolve. The info-site provides accurate and up-to-date opportunities for young people. It includes:

  • online resources, webinars, and training programmes,
  • helpline numbers set up by the government and partners,
  • employment opportunities,
  • protection services,
  • and COVID-19 youth-related advocacy campaigns.

The team is now co-designing a virtual innovation lab that will provide a platform for youth to co-create solutions to deal with the post-pandemic future.

By focusing on the immediate needs of the youth and co-creating solutions towards a brighter post-pandemic future, Y-ACT is leading the youth to be in a position of authority and influence. This provides the ability to spur different outcomes based on youth creativity, and innovation, during this time of the pandemic.

Evalin Karijo is Project Director of Y-ACT (Youth in Action), an initiative of Amref Health Africa that aims to mentor, support and increase the capacity of youth advocates to influence policy and resource priorities in the areas of gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Moving Closer to the Legalization of Abortion in Argentina

The feminist movement is about to achieve a historic conquest in Argentina. After years of struggle and social debate, President Alberto Fernandez has announced the introduction of a bill for the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy. It adds to the bill of the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion (which has already been introduced eight times and was first debated in 2018), and would legalise abortion in Argentina.

At Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir (Catholics for the Right to Choose), we have witnessed firsthand the growth of the ‘green wave‘. The movement convenes activists across generations and calls for the dismantling of patriarchal structures to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The Green Wave Reaches Congress 

Photo by Natalia Roca

We have actively participated in the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion since its founding. Early pioneers would collect signatures in city squares to support the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy bill that they themselves had written. Today, young women march with the green scarf of autonomy over their bodies.

It was a long time before the bill was discussed in Congress. And though it was finally rejected by the Senate, there was extensive debate. The green wave managed to consolidate a collective voice that continues to defend abortion as a matter of public health, social justice and human rights. We claim autonomy over our bodies as an unavoidable step towards full citizenship and the lay state as the fundamental axis for guaranteeing rights. 

As Catholic and feminist activists, we pose the need to remove religion from the heart of the debate.

By doing so, we can reveal the moral and religious background behind the arguments against women’s autonomy. Throughout its history, the Catholic Church has not held a unique position on abortion. Biblical texts have not included it as a central moral issue. Feminist theology gives us a broader vision that can help us to build more inclusive churches. It also enables us to guarantee the secularity of the state while taking into account the diversity of opinions and realities. Therefore, our view reflects the possibility of being women of faith and supporting the right to choose.

One of the phrases we have printed on our green scarves and T-shirts is: “Mary was asked to be the mother of Christ”. These are not just words. They signal an ethical position from which we consider the decisions women make throughout their lives. They call for attentive listening in order to defend the life and health of all those with the ability to gestate.

Abortion as a Debt of Democracy

In Argentina, interruption of pregnancy is currently legal only if the pregnancy is the result of a rape or the pregnant woman’s life or health is in danger. However, there are still multiple barriers that force women to resort to clandestine, and often unsafe, abortions. These include: disparity in access to information and quality health services, professionals who present themselves as conscientious objectors, multiple inequalities that persist in our country, and moral and religious prejudices.

There are approximately 54 abortions per hour in Argentina. That’s 1300 per day and 520,000 per year. At least 3040 women have died from unsafe abortions in the last 30 years. During 2018, seven girls between 10 and 14 years old gave birth per day. Every day we are faced with a critical scenario regarding the health of women and girls. The more time we take to ensure access to sexual and reproductive rights, the more lives will be impacted.

Photo by Emergentes

What does the bill presented by the @CampAbortoLegal say?

1. It guarantees access to abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy. After the 14th week, it authorizes the procedures with no time limit or judicial complaint if a woman’s life or health is at risk, or in the case of rape.

2. It defines health according to the World Health Organization – complete physical, mental and social well-being – and defines the right to abortion as a human right. Abortion as a right must be included in the contents of comprehensive sex education, as well as in teachers’ training courses and courses for health care professionals. 

3. It guarantees abortion without distinction of origin, nationality, residence and/or citizenship of the person who requests it. People who are migrants in transit are included. Furthermore, the practice must be guaranteed within the five calendar days in which the abortion is requested. The person seeking the abortion must sign an informed consent form, and this must be the ONLY pre-requisite.

4. It guarantees access to information on abortion. This must be relevant, accurate, secular, up-to-date and scientific, in the language that the person communicates in and in accessible formats. The person may request counselling, but it is not mandatory.

5. It guarantees the right to abortion access for children and teenagers. In all cases, the best interests of the child must prevail. No person can be replaced in the exercise of the right to decide. All insurance plans, health care systems and prepaid private systems must guarantee the practice free of charge. This will be a Public Order Act and its implementation is compulsory throughout the territory of the Nation.

It Will be Law

The coronavirus pandemic has forced countries to take urgent measures to stop the spread of the infection, and we understand the need to give priority to the global health crisis we are currently facing. We also know that, sooner rather than later, we will achieve the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Act in Argentina. Meanwhile, we will continue working and collaborating to get through this pandemic. Special attention must be paid to the impact of COVID-19 on women, sexual minorities and other vulnerable sectors of our society. We will continue accompanying those who need us, fighting for our rights, and building a world of justice. Together, we are making history. There is no turning back.

We are organized and we have political experience – accumulated over many years of struggle. Working together with a network of health professionals, lawyers, journalists and teachers, we have strengthened ourselves. We have developed response mechanisms to assist, guide and train people who need it. Our strength is collective and it is nourished by the intergenerational exchanges that have made this green wave possible. It is a green wave that fills us with pride.

Since 2018, when more than one million people flooded the streets, we have witnessed the growth of the movement, the intensification of social debate and the building of consensus that influences public opinion. We have no doubt that the right to abortion will be law in Argentina and when that day comes, it will find us together.

Photo by Emergentes

Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir Argentina is a Safe Abortion Action Fund grantee partner.

In Conversation with Beverly Nkirote Mutwiri

Beverly Nkirote Mutwiri is a sexual and reproductive health and rights advocate from Kenya. She speaks to Girls’ Globe about the challenges she has encountered as a young woman in a patriarchal society.

“In many SRHR spaces we have male dominancy, and at times it can be very intimidating, especially to a young woman.”

This video was made possible through a generous grant from SayItForward.org in support of women’s advocacy messages.

If you liked this post, we think you’ll love our interviews with KingaWinfredScarlett, Natasha and Tasneem, too!

In Conversation With Kinga Wisniewska

Kinga Wisniewska is a sexual and reproductive health and rights advocate from Poland. In this conversation with Girls’ Globe, Kinga talks about the misconceptions surrounding sexual and reproductive health and rights in her home country, and the challenges she faces as an advocate in today’s political climate. 

“The environment is getting more and more conservative in Poland, so I’m struggling with sending my message without being attacked.”

We couldn’t agree more with Kinga when she says that storytelling has the power to bring out the best part of people – their empathy. 

“When you become empathetic you connect, you rethink, maybe you change your opinion.”

This video was made possible through a generous grant from SayItForward.org in support of women’s advocacy messages.

Join us LIVE at ICFP2018!

We’re excited to announce that Girls’ Globe will be part of the 2018 International Conference on Family Planning in Rwanda next week.

From Monday 12 – Thursday 15 November, we’ll join thousands of advocates, young people, political leaders, scientists, policymakers and researchers from within the global family planning community. And we want you to come with us!

If you are interested sexual and reproductive health and rights you can attend the conference from wherever you are in the world through the ICFP Hub, and by joining the Virtual Conference on Facebook.

You’re invited to join Girls’ Globe’s LIVE events and reporting!

There are loads of ways to engage with Girls’ Globe online during the conference and you can catch everything on our  ICFP2018 LIVE page. Here’s what you don’t want to miss next week – make sure to RSVP to each event and follow us @girlsglobe on Instagram, Twitter & Facebook.

Monday 12 November 

Welcome to #ICFP2018: The Girls’ Globe team on the ground in Kigali, Rwanda welcome you to the International Conference on Family Planning 2018. While we say hi to people arriving for the opening ceremony, we will start a conversation with you about expectations for this year’s conference. We will talk to you about the ways you can engage online during conference – and what you don’t want to miss this week! 

Tuesday 13 November

Family Planning Commitments for Young People: In this episode, we will highlight young people’s priorities in sexual and reproductive health and rights, and we will shine the spotlight on the family planning commitments being made for young people around the world. You will have the opportunity to interact and to ask your question and share your priorities in a live Q&A.

Wednesday 14 November 

Stories at the Heart of SRHR (in partnership with sayitforward.org): In this episode, we will highlight a more personal side of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and we’ll shine a spotlight on women’s stories of overcoming challenging norms, stigma and taboos in their work with family planning. You will have the opportunity to join this conversation LIVE by sharing your own story and connecting in solidarity as others around the world share theirs. 

Thursday 15 November 

A Global Movement of Action: In this episode, we will highlight the actions that people are taking around the world to advance family planning and sexual and reproductive health and rights. We will shine a spotlight on YOU and some of our partner organizations in the studio and discuss the actions they are taking in the next year, the needs that they have to advance their work, and the change that they want to see in 2020. You can join the conversation LIVE by adding your perspectives and inspiration in a livestreamed Q&A.

Providing family planning services to urban migrant workers in Bangladesh garment factories: In this segment, Girls’ Globe will interview Dr. Jewel Alam Azad of CARE to discuss access to quality sexual and reproductive health information and services for urban garment workers in Bangladesh. You’ll be able to join the conversation by asking your own questions to Dr. Jewel Alam Azad.

Join Girls’ Globe’s #ICFP2018 conversations by sharing your voice, your perspective and your story with us throughout the week. We’ll see you there! 

Happy World Contraception Day!

Do you know about World Contraception Day? It was launched in 2007 with the mission of improving contraception awareness and empowering youth with the ability to arrive at informed decisions about their reproductive and sexual health.

World Contraception Day (WCD) celebrates this concept every September 26th with the vision that no woman should have an unwanted pregnancy, making way for less risky abortions, fewer newborn and maternal deaths and greater prosperity and equality for all women everywhere. So, what are we celebrating exactly?

What Exactly Is World Contraception Day?

More than 70 countries typically participate in World Contraception Day. The World Health Organization describes the importance of WCD in a way that encompasses the promotion of family planning and female autonomy, supporting free choice of women worldwide, which in turn strengthens world health goals.

Ensuring that women can access their preferred contraceptive methods and make empowered decisions about their sexual health secures their autonomy and well-being. In turn, this movement strengthens the development and health of communities.

Women have used various contraceptive methods for centuries with varying to limited success, but modern medicine now allows women to choose if, when and how many kids they want to have — which can break the cycle of impoverishment and build a more sustainable path for the future of families and communities around the world.

The world population continues to grow, and limited access to contraception by law and other restrictions threaten women and the livelihood of and quality of life for families across the world.

Even in a wealthy country like the United States, women choose to have fewer kids for valid reasons: 64 percent cite rising childcare expenses, 54 percent want more time with their kids, 49 percent worry about the economy and 44 percent can’t afford kids. Other reasons include anxiety about domestic politics, work-life balance, career ambitions, rising population levels and parental aptitude.

Why I’m Celebrating World Contraception Day

Having access to a variety of family planning methods enables couples and families to do what’s best for themselves. As families plan if, when and how many children they will have, economic, social and health benefits increase for all.

I don’t personally want to have children, and while I don’t know if that will change, I certainly want to live in a world where I never have to face the scary possibility of giving birth to a human child who I am not prepared to take care of properly.

And in an American political climate where someone like Brett Kavanaugh is even being considered a viable candidate for judgeship, I believe that we need to be talking about contraceptives and safe, consensual sexual practices more than ever before.

It’s important for other countries as well. According to the USAID, more than 225 million women want to avoid or delay pregnancy in developing countries, but they don’t currently use family planning. WCD stresses the importance of increasing access to contraceptive services and information for everyone.

Every individual has a right to quality and affordable family planning information and contraceptives. Many organizations sponsor the delivery of condoms and contraceptives to developing countries. Knowledge about family planning gets shared not only at health clinics, but at salons, too! Wherever women go, we should be making sure that information is readily available to them.

Visit World Contraception Day online at your-life.com, which provides answers to common questions people have about contraceptives, reproduction and women’s health. Visitors can also research information about pregnancy and the “growing pains” of puberty.

You can celebrate World Contraception Day by sharing information on it, practicing safe and consensual sexual habits and honoring your sexual health by giving your body the TLC it deserves!