Young People Know the Way Ahead for Family Planning

Meet two remarkable new additions to the Family Planning 2020 Reference Group

Manasa Priya and Mbencho Andrew understand the acute need and critical gaps that their peers around the world confront every day when they seek accurate, quality sexual and reproductive health information and services.

Today, these two exceptional advocates join FP2020’s Reference Group — made up of global leaders devoted to reaching women and girls with lifesaving modern contraception — to serve as a link between FP2020 and the youth networks working on behalf of their peers around the world.

Manasa Priya and Mbencho Andrew’s input, guidance, and leadership will help FP2020 realize its goals and strengthen the ties of partnership between the global family planning community and its future leaders.

Manasa Priya Vasudevan, India

Programme Manager, Know Your Body Know Your Rights, YP Foundation; Focal point, UN Major Group for Women and Children; Member, Regional Network of Youth for SRHR, managed by ARROW

Meet Manasa

I manage a programme that advances the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young people, focusing on young women across National Capital Region, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar. The programme does this by delivering Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) to marginalized young people, and by building capacity for their parents, guardians, and frontline health workers to sustain an empowered and enabling environment for young people in need of SRHR services.

Every time I go into the field I am disturbed by the lack of knowledge on basic subjects such as anatomy, even among highly-educated people in Delhi. The culture of silence fueled by stigma disadvantages those marginalized because of their gender, age, caste, religion, and physical ability.

During a recent workshop on abortion in an urban slum in Lucknow, participants informed us that an 11-year-old girl from their neighborhood was pregnant and unable to access healthcare for fear that news would circulate and bring shame to the family. Upon further inquiry, it was discovered that the girl was nine months pregnant and had not visited an OB/GYN throughout the gestation period. Fortunately, with support from the programme team, the girl was rushed to a hospital in time and underwent a successful natural delivery. An important learning from my on-ground experience has been that increasing young people’s — especially young women’s — access to information about their bodies, sexuality, contraception, and more, can move the needle. It can help them become self-sufficient agents of social transformation.

In my own personal and professional experience, I have noticed that growing up, young people — especially adolescent girls and unmarried young women — have limited access to healthcare, information, and lack awareness about their rights. Within the larger constituency of adolescents, young girls are infantilized and discouraged from taking part in decision-making, which adversely impacts their independence and well-being.

What are a few possible solutions to addressing the challenges that impact young people’s ability to access and use modern contraception?

All three solutions below will be most effective if implemented at once, or in partnership with multiple sectors (with the government acting as a linchpin). Additionally, all three solutions must be accompanied by consistent efforts towards eliminating stigma and promoting the relevance of SRHR information and services for young people. My suggestions:

Mainstreaming in-school as well as out-of-school access to comprehensive, rights-affirming, stigma-free information on body, desire, sexuality, conception, contraception, STIs /RTIs, HIV, abortion, and related laws and policies;

Frequent and systematic training as well as monetary incentives for sexuality education providers to provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services; and

Systematic sensitization of all members of the healthcare system to human rights perspectives on sexual and reproductive health and rights issues.

What do you hope to accomplish as a member of the Reference Group?

As a feminist human rights development practitioner from The YP Foundation, New Delhi — a nongovernmental organization that places youth at the very center of its programming by virtue of being youth-led and youth run — I wish to secure rights-affirming approaches and youth-centric programming across the Reference Group’s spheres of work.

I come with extensive experience of having worked directly with young people from diverse backgrounds, alongside gatekeepers and decision makers who wield great influence in these young people’s lives. Through the Know Your Body Know Your Rights program, we consistently create platforms to facilitate constructive dialogue between healthcare workers, policymakers, and young people at the local, state, and national levels to establish where we align and how we can work together when addressing new and existing issues. I would strive to utilize my learnings from the field in diversifying approaches towards promoting multi sectoral and stakeholder engagement with Family Planning 2020 and its goals.

Mbencho Andrew Millan, Cameroon

Founder and Executive Director, Youth Health International; Program Director, Cameroon Youth Coalition for Reproductive Health; Member, Cameroon Youth Council; Member, International Youth Alliance for Family Planning; Member, Youth Caucus — Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition; Member, Partnership of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health; Member, 120 Under 40 Family Planning Champions

Meet Andrew

My younger sister got pregnant at the age of 12. I felt frustrated: I knew that I should have prevented this situation. This brought so much pain in our family and had enormous consequences for her. This was what sparked my passion for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

I believe that young people have the right to live healthy lives, fulfill their full potential, and contribute to economic development. Today, many of the more than one billion young people living in the 69 FP2020 focus countries do not have access to the contraceptive method of their choice. When young people are misinformed about contraceptives, the negative impact is felt not only by them, but also by the community and by future generations.

I strongly believe that whoever you are, wherever you live, all the decisions you make about your own body should be yours.

To improve young people’s access to family planning services, I strongly believe that there must be change at the policy level with young people actively included and engaged during the development and implementation process of policy making.

What is your greatest achievement on behalf of young people so far?

In 2016, I led the development and management of an FP2020 Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) grant, which we used to advocate for implementation of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in schools in the North-West Region of Cameroon. These were the first-ever CSE programs to be implemented in schools. I trained peers educators, created health clubs in schools, trained school nurses on how to counsel young people, and trained teachers who implemented CSE classroom lectures using a standardized curriculum. This led directly to the first-ever effort by policymakers of the region to institutionalize CSE. A follow-on project advocated for specific budget lines for contraception commodities in the same region. As a result, 15 mayors allocated a portion of their 2018 budgets to family planning activities, in amounts ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. This was the first time ever that a mayor in Cameroon dedicated funds specifically to family planning.

Addressing socio-cultural attitudes is important to improve acceptance of family planning use by young people. Overcoming cultural and religious beliefs will provide an environment that enables young people to access and use modern contraceptives.

What do you hope to accomplish as a member of the Reference Group?

As a member of the Reference Group and as a youth family planning advocate, I will ensure that the opinions, comments, and suggestions of young people I am representing are expressed, and provide an important youth perspective in decision-making.

The voices of young people need to be greatly amplified in the Reference Group — their specific needs require special attention. I will work through the Reference Group to strengthen youth participation and partnership with FP2020. I will also ensure that young people remain a high priority for FP2020 and for the community as a whole.

Learn more about FP2020’s Reference Group here.