By Veronica Fonseca Castro, FP2030 intern
We often hear that “young people are the future,” and although it might be a cliche, it’s true — young people will inherit the world we live in, and their decisions will affect the future for generations to come. Yet many young people are still left out when it comes to accessing rights-based contraception and participating in conversations and programs about family planning. Too often we hear that young people are not mature enough for these kinds of conversations, that asking for contraceptives is wrong, and that this taboo subject is better avoided than discussed. However, if we were to face those misconceptions and grant young people universal access to rights-based contraception in our health care systems, we would get one step closer to achieving gender equality, increasing literacy rates and other prosperity indicators, and, consequently, enhancing a region’s economic growth.
The delivery of high-quality family planning services in an established health care system is key to the economic and social development of a region. More specifically, rights-based contraception is an essential tool that allows people to stay in school and exercise bodily autonomy and that give them the freedom to choose their career path. Naturally, young people must have access to these kinds of resources, as they’re the ones who will begin making their own life-changing decisions.
For example, according to a study by the University of Washington, “Kenya showed a substantial increase in girls’ educational attainment, from 12% reaching the lower secondary level in the mid-1970s to 59% in the mid-2010s. Contraceptive prevalence in Kenya also grew steadily, from 5% to 51%, while the total fertility rate dropped from 7.64 births per woman to 4.06.”
Additionally, if rights-based contraception were included in all health care plans, we would have an opportunity to curtail unintended pregnancies — an estimated 7.4 million among adolescents worldwide. Research by the Guttmacher Institute found that spacing and delaying pregnancies are linked to improved birth outcomes for babies as well as lower mortality rates in pregnancies. As a result, having well funded and universal access to family planning resources that include rights-based contraception in a health care system allows young people to make their own decisions and live up to their fullest potential, which contributes to the overall development and well-being of a region.
But if family planning services targeted toward young people are of such vital importance to a region’s development, why do so many lack access to it? The proper implementation of family planning programs is vital for this kind of resources to work effectively. Rights-based contraception and conversations about family planning are tools needed to build a person’s future; they must never feel like an inconvenience or a task. Young people must be included in family planning programs and education not only as a target, but also as educators and advocates; they must participate in these efforts.
Young leaders and educators are key to the word “access.” When young people lead family planning programs, whether that is preventative screenings for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), peer-to-peer counseling, or proper sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) education, family planning feels genuine. That in turn allows young people to use these resources as tools to decide what to do with their bodies and their lives.
We often hear that when it comes to improving the world we live in, we must focus on the youth. Because young people are indeed our future, let’s make sure they can access one of the most exceptional tools to create a healthier, autonomous, and equal society: rights-based contraception.