A moment to elevate young women’s voices and family planning choices
Guest column from Janet Holt, Program Officer, Global Development and Population Program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
LANIAR, SENEGAL – AUGUST 14: A mobile clinical outreach team from Marie Stopes International, a specialized sexual reproductive health and family planning organization on a site visit to Laniar health center, a rural area, where they offer many sexual reproductive health services and counseling, including the full range of family planning options, emergency contraception, pre- and post natal care, and cervical cancer screening and treatment. August 14, 2014 in Laniar Senegal. (Photo by Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images).
Young women—under the age of 20—often have the hardest time accessing family planning and reproductive health services, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. This is why I’m thrilled that hundreds of young women from around the globe will be part of the International Conference on Family Planning in Kigali, Rwanda in November to shape the way practitioners, donors, advocates, and global movements can help young men and women find, understand, and use contraception and other family planning services. (Bonus: they’ve promised a #NoPanels portion of the conference!)
I am honored to be the newest program officer with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Global Development and Population Program, where I support grants that seek—directly and through advocacy—to extend comprehensive reproductive health services to women across Africa, and particularly in Francophone West Africa. I’m looking forward to meeting many of the organizations Hewlett has supported and collaborated with over the years, and immersing myself in the discussions on human-centered design, methods for engaging religious leaders and men in family planning, and donor coordination.
I’ll be paying particular attention to conversations about how young women and girls can access family planning, especially in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo, whose governments joined donors (including the Hewlett Foundation) in 2011 to create the Ouagadougou Partnership.
The Ouagadougou Partnership seeks to increase and improve services for all women and men, and has already made great commitments to youth. Governments, service providers, youth leaders, researchers and advocates are actively engaged in many new efforts. Indeed, there is much to be hopeful for:
- Youth Ambassadors shape family planning policy and advocacy with their own governments. All nine countries in the Ouagadougou Partnership now have Youth Ambassador groups (Jeunes Ambassadeurs), supported by the Hewlett-funded Strengthening Civil Society for Family Planning in West Africa Project (CS4FP) project led by IntraHealth International. Youth Ambassadors partner with their respective civil society organization (CSO) coalitions to advocate for family planning with national and regional governments and several will be joining us at ICFP. In an independent evaluation of the Hewlett Foundation’s Francophone West Africa strategy, the evaluators reported that “interviewees frequently referred to the visibility and fundraising success of youth groups as signs of successful advocacy efforts.” Indeed, some countries have demonstrated their willingness to involve youth in their national planning, including in Burkina Faso where the Jeunes Ambassadeurs played a strong role in the development of their country’s National Acceleration Plan for Family Planning 2017-2020, including the allocation of 28 percent of the national budget for family planning access for youth and adolescents, a leader in the region.
- Countries are testing and expanding new approaches to better reach young men and women. Two organizations we support, Marie Stopes International and Ideo.org, have developed a promising approach to promote family planning among married adolescents in Burkina Faso, La Belle Famille, based on what they have learned about the influence of husbands as gatekeepers to access for their young wives. The board-game based program is still in the ‘prototyping’ phase in Burkina Faso and is being adapted for MSI’s Senegalese context in the coming months.
The Camber Collective used psycho-behavioral segmentation methods to create a nuanced analysis of family planning needs, attitudes, and behavior among five unique segments of women in Niger, providing insight into which segments are likely to change their behavior, and importantly, which are not. They are currently conducting a follow-on analysis in Benin of their segmentation on how unmarried young women think about and approach family planning. We eagerly await the results of their work later this year—and how the insights might inform other work in this area.
- Service providers across the region are working to expand the range of contraceptive choices available to and aimed at young people. DKT International established a Francophone West Africa regional office in 2016 and has introduced a suite of new products for across 11 countries so far, including the successful “Préservatifs Kiss” (Kiss Condoms), the first regional youth condom brand. Pathfinder continues to increase its presence and impact in the sub-region with it’s youth-focused sexual and reproductive health programming.
Yet so much need remains. Progress has been uneven between countries, highlighting a need to increase engagement and funding in places where youth service provision lags behind. Questions of cost abound, as new approaches for youth often require deeper investment, especially at the research and design stages. And as we near the deadline to fulfill our global Family Planning 2020 goals, the urgency to act only increases.
I am eager to join in your conversations and efforts at International Conference on Family Planning around these questions and needs. The Youth Pre-Conference will be a particularly exciting platform to hear from the inspiring young leaders from around the world, to learn from them about best practices and to jointly ignite action within the Ouagadougou Partnership and globally to achieve our 2020 targets. I’m proud that my colleagues at Hewlett have provided financial support for language translation efforts at the Youth Pre-Conference to make it more inclusive, especially of our Francophone friends. I encourage participants, especially our youngest colleagues, to seek me out at the conference and to share your ideas, questions and hopes with me. À bientôt!