Barriers to SRHR are leaving youths and SDGs behind

By Sunayana Limbu

On the first day of the UNGA 2017 week, Restless Development hosted a UNGA side event named, “Youth power: Youth-led accountability for gender equality by 2030.” The organization unapologetically called governments to meaningfully engage with young people as partners in the follow-up process of the SDGs so that gender equality is achieved. Restless Development organized the event so that governments all around the world could explore more radical approaches to participate on initiatives focusing on power and gender relations. The event was sponsored by organizations named Women Deliver and UNFPA. It was also supported by the Secretary-General of Envoy on Youth and the Permanent Mission of Denmark to the United Nations.

The event is unique because it sheds light to a long-standing issue that has yet to be addressed. Although world leaders and youth have responded to the Sustainable Development Goals, there remains an urgent need for young people to engage themselves in implementing the sustainable development goals. We have to make sure that no one is left behind. All young people must be included to fulfill the promise of the SDGs. It was revealed in the event that only 13% of countries dedicate a regular budget to gather gender statistics. Having attended the event, I learned that people who are socially excluded based on their gender and sexual orientation are less likely to be contributing to and benefiting from sustainable development. It is important that we don’t let these youth feel left behind. Leaving them behind means we will be able to achieve neither Goal 5 nor the other SDG Goals. Such views and opinions were clearly expressed by the panel of distinguished speakers.

Moderators of the event were Richard Dzikunu from Restless Development, Yeabsira Bogal Bishaw from Global Power Shift and Renae Green from Jamaican Youth Advocacy Network. They come from Ghana, Ethiopia, and Jamaica respectively. The moderators were also sharing their own experiences and facts about sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) of young people. Dzikunu explained, “Out of 553 young people surveyed in Ghana, 45% had no knowledge of any forms of contraception. More than half of mothers in our focus groups reported that they would rather have their delivery assisted by a traditional birth assistant than attend a health clinic.”

Lack of knowledge on SRHR is creating barriers to participation for young people. Young people are faced with challenges of overcoming their traditional roles, expectations and programs that fail to focus on a deeper transformation of gender relations. Transgender youth and non-binary youth are at a risk of being left behind. Renae, who is a transgender male, explained how transgender populations in Jamaica are being victimized and excluded because their laws do not protect them. He pleaded that governments all around the world recognize the challenges transgender youth are facing in order to achieve SDGs by 2030. Renae stated, “People of trans experience are among the most marginalized in accessing SRHR information and have the highest prevalence of HIV and AIDS in my country.”

Young people like Renae, Bishaw, and Richard are collecting their own data and mobilizing their peers. They are integrating their skills and perspectives to hold governments accountable for their commitment to achieving gender equality. Youth leaders are empowering girls and women through SDG 5 and all other SDGs so that no youth is excluded.