Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health and Right issues among the youth has been a major challenge in Ghana and many other African countries for a very long time. Notable among challenges that most young people are faced with on the subject include (but not limited to) societal norms, stigmatization, religious beliefs and lack of access to expert information as well as services. The resultant effect is countless unintended pregnancies among the youth leading to unsafe abortions, and ultimately avoidable deaths.
It is against this backdrop that the Marie Stopes Ghana, under the Youth Project, organized the maiden No Yawa National Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Summit which assembled all stakeholders on youth matters to discuss and make their voice count in order to influence important policy decision making on the youth.
The No Yawa National Youth SRHR Summit, has come to stay as an annual national SRHR event that will promote Young People’s ideas and innovations in SRHR. It will also provide platforms for partners to share knowledge and lessons in implementation of SRHR across the country to help improve SRHR policy and programming. The summit particularly sought to explore the issue of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), discussing the proposition that CSE should be introduced into the school curriculum.
Opening the session, Hon. Dzifa Abla Gomeshie, the Deputy Minister for Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts couldn’t mince words that young people should tap into the rich information available today. She also explained that in contrast to the situation during her days, many of resources have been channeled into young people. According to her, the opportunities available to young people are enormous because the world has evolved and hence young people have no excuse not to excel. She concluded with a quote that ‘every food can be eaten but not every food should be eaten’, which she explained to mean “young people have so much information at their disposure but not all that information is healthy for their consumption. Instead, they should be careful in selecting the right information.”
The two-day programme was held at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center in Accra on the 8th and 9th of June, 2016, under the theme “Activating Youth SRHR Voices for Change”. At the end of the two-day event the over 400 participants, largely youths from all nooks and crannies in Ghana, agreed on the need to strongly give the youth a voice. The summit became successful with the collaboration of several Core Summit Partners (CSP) such as the National Youth Authority (NYA), Ghana Health Service (GES), National Population Council (NPC), Ghana Education Service (GES), Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana (PPAG), Grameen Foundation, DKT International Ghana, Kayayei Youth Association, Curious Minds and the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) and other key stakeholders in sexual and reproductive health.
In his welcome address, Mr. George Bruno Akanlu, representative of the Country Director of MSG noted that it is in order to improve upon Sexual Reproductive Health Rights of young people which is actually the major component of MSI’s objective for 2016. On her part, Madam Marian Kpakpa, representing the National Population Council stressed on the need for collaboration among relevant institutions in concerted effort to effectively deal with the issue. She commended No Yawa and supporting partners for leading the battle to break barriers such as unavailability of information and the difficulty of efficiently getting access not only to healthcare facilities but also qualified health personnel. She urged policy makers to focus on the implementation of policies just as they are being drafted and concluded that young people need services because it is their rights and they have the right do demand for it.
A representative of the Ghana Education Service mentioned that GES has been instrumental in educating young individuals holistically – thus psychologically, physically and socially, and said the summit is aiding in achieving this purpose. On the part of the service, extracurricular activities where there is room for partners such as MSI and GHS engage students. She pledged the service’s support for the summit.
Speaking on behalf of GHS Dr. Patrick Aboagye (Director of Family Health Division) outlined some challenges confronting young people today. These include adolescent unintended pregnancies and child birth, STIs, Non-communicable diseases, and adolescent obesity, adding that about 22.4% of Ghana’s population are adolescents thus making issues on this segment of the population very necessary for the country. He said young people are exposed to new ideas due to the rapid evolvement of technology especially earlier exposure of sex though the situation is better in Ghana as compared to other African Countries. “Another challenge is adolescent obesity and some causes attributed to this were the non-utilization of health services and wrong use of information. Solutions to these challenges include making health services adolescent friendly and partnering with schools and adolescent groups to reach out to more adolescents. GHS is in partnership with MSI in implementation of No Yawa programme which has made a great impact.”
The key feature of this summit was the break-out sessions which congregated participants concurrently in various location within the summit grounds to deliberate on key topical issues such as Sexual and Gender based Violence & Implications for Adolescent SRHR, Overcoming Challenges/Barriers In Sexual And Reproductive Health Services And Rights: The Place Of Self-Esteem, Assertiveness And Confidence, How Can Young People Advocate, Campaign And Build Coalition For SRHR?, Ears To The Ground: How Does The Media Perceive Youth SRHR?, and The Innovation Hub: Using Technology To Promote Positive Youth Sexual Reproductive Health Right, which were all paneled by very competent and experts in the respective areas.
At the end of the summit, almost all participants, both resource persons and the audience agreed this event couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time than this. They called for more of such initiatives by other sector players on youth related matters till we meet again for another grand event next year.