Young people advocate for sexual health and rights By Sumita Thapar

Youth Changemakers at the forefront of sexual health and rights advocacy

Sumita Thapar*

A regional initiative in several countries in Asia is helping young people find innovative solutions to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights in their communities.

In Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, a soccer player formed a soccer team of vulnerable and marginalized children. Sport has transformative power, he says, adding that playing football will help channel children’s energies, resolve issues of aggression and become a means of protecting them from abuse.

In Lahore, Pakistan, a theater practitioner uses the performing arts for social change.

In Uttarakhand, India, a young woman has set up a chatbot to help women and girls – who live in the forests – clarify myths and misconceptions about sexual and reproductive health. In the Philippines, a young woman provides online training to the community on how to use social media platforms to address the issue of rising teenage pregnancies.

Supported by ARROW (The Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Center for Women), these young leaders and others are finding solutions to the most pressing sexual and reproductive health and rights issues in their local contexts and communities. The premise is that those who bear the brunt of the consequences of climate change and the non-realization of sexual and reproductive health and rights are those who can best help find the most lasting solutions to these problems.

Right here now

ARROW’s Changemakers Right Here Right Now (RHRN) initiative, launched in 2020, has trained more than 150 young leaders from countries including India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines and Indonesia in over the past two years. Over 40 innovative projects have been supported through mentorship and seed funding. Young people identified problems in their local context and designed innovative solutions on a range of issues, including comprehensive sexuality education, sexual and gender-based violence and LGBTIQAP+ rights for young people.

These young changemakers are coming together at the Asian Youth Festival on Innovation for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), to be held September 19-21, 2022 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to celebrate their work. in their communities and share lessons learned. The Youth Festival aims to help young changemakers build their capacity in social entrepreneurship and SRHR through trainings, mentoring, pilot projects and scaling up initiatives. Sai Jyothirmai Racerla, Deputy Executive Director of ARROW, says the Asia Youth Festival aims to foster a mindset of innovation and creative problem solving among young people. “We hope to foster the building of the youth movement for sustainable development in the Asia region,” she says.

Women and Land Initiative

The impact of climate change on sexual and reproductive health is increasingly becoming an area of ​​interest for young people. As communities grapple with the increased severity and frequency of floods and cyclones, there are growing concerns about its adverse effects on women and girls. ARROW also implements the Women and Earth (WORTH) initiative focused on climate change and SRHR, which supports young people to develop new solutions to issues arising from the links between gender equality and SRHR with environmental sustainability. and adaptation to climate change. Under this initiative, young leaders from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan and the Philippines were supported to participate in capacity-building labs and develop and implement innovative ideas on SRHR and climate change.

The Asia Youth Festival celebrates the achievements of these changemakers and social change innovators and provides an opportunity for them to share and learn from each other.

Sabir Ali, from the Rural Development Foundation, Pakistan, works in flood-prone Sindh province. It has also been affected by the recent floods the country is facing. Sabir notes that there is a greater risk of gender-based violence and sexual abuse in relief camps. As food aid and disaster relief take priority, access to family planning services is disrupted, he says. Sabir’s work aims to help women and girls participate in policy-making. Through safe spaces and dialogue, women and girls can voice their issues. These can be as simple as the lack of menstrual products during a disaster or as complex as the increase in sexual abuse and violence.

The Asia-Pacific region is home to more than 60% of the world’s young population. This translates to more than 750 million young women and men between the ages of 15 and 24. Many adolescents and young people in the region continue to transition into adulthood with insufficient information about sexual and reproductive health and rights issues.

According to a UNFPA report on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people in Asia-Pacific, 1 in 3 women aged 15 to 24 do not see their demand for family planning met by modern methods; less than 1 in 4 sexually active unmarried adolescents uses a modern method of contraception. There are an estimated 3.6 million unsafe abortions each year among women aged 15-24. Maternal disorders are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 in the Pacific and the second leading cause of death in South Asia.

Tanya Khera, 29, co-founder of the Samanta Foundation works in Uttarakhand, India, among forest dwellers. She says issues and challenges unique to these communities include early marriage, teenage pregnancy and miscarriage. To address the challenge of lack of awareness on issues such as menstrual hygiene management, pregnancy spacing, and the resources and services available to them, Tanya set up a chatbot on sexual health issues . The chatbot also directs users to the government’s telecounselling app or to the nearest health facility. Users also have the option of calling a trained young woman from the community for more advice.

According to Sivananthi Thanenthiran, Executive Director of ARROW, “Young people today are not passive recipients of social change, they are active and eager to use their skills and contribute to achieving sustainable development in areas of environment, climate and economic development within communities to foster prosperity for people and the planet.We see young people at the forefront of the SRHR movement, as leaders, program implementers, social entrepreneurs, innovators, peer educators achieving SRHR not just for themselves but for communities.”

Although the initiatives are nascent and pilot in scope, they demonstrate change. Tanya says, “Our trainings have helped women and girls understand their anatomy. Previously, women would go to the doctor with their husband and he would tell the doctor about his wife’s illness. But, thanks to this initiative, women can now speak for themselves.” She adds that young girls adapt quickly and are eager to learn. For example, girls use sanitary napkins and menstrual cups. They are much more confident about their bodies.Tanya’s initiative reaches around 300 women in Uttarakhand, India.She has trained 20 community girls who can help women and girls access the health and health chatbot. sexual and reproductive rights and answer all questions “Technology cannot operate in silos,” says Tanya.

In Sindh, Pakistan, Sabir’s project trained women to form groups called ‘Saheli’ (meaning friend) of 20 women each. It has already touched 300 women.

“We train the women in these working groups, build their capacity and provide them with office space and resources like internet use,” says Sabir. These groups were successful in sensitizing decision makers to ensure the prevention of gender-based violence and sexual abuse in the relief camps during the recent floods.

As young changemakers come together at the upcoming festival, it will be interesting to see ideas from all countries shared and learn from each other. As Sai rightly notes, “Normalizing conversations and creative problem-solving around SRHR information and services is the way forward. Young people are ready, it is now up to the ecosystem around young people to be facilitative and enable them to translate their value and capabilities into ground-level action.”

* Sumita Thapar wrote this article for
The author is Special Correspondent of the CNS (Citizen Information Service) and
writing from the Asian Youth Festival 2022 on Innovation for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
She is a recognized journalist and an expert in communication for development.
Follow her on Twitter: @SumitaT
This article was first webcast on September 16, 2022.

About the author