Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the Youth Health and Rights Coalition. They do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Agency for International Development nor of the U.S. federal government.
It is often said that young people are our future. But young people aren’t just assets for development tomorrow – they are agents of change today. The first-ever USAID Youth in Development Policy (PDF) clearly recognizes this reality and provides important opportunities to involve global youth in shaping our development agenda and advancing their health and rights.
Young people in Kenya. Photo credit: USAID.
Today’s generation of young people is the largest in history; nearly half of the world’s population—some three billion people—is under the age of 25. Given that this large demographic of young people presents the world with an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate economic development and reduce poverty, the policy is particularly timely and critical. It rightly acknowledges that in order for young people to realize their potential and contribute to the development of countries, they must be able to access information and services that protect their rights and promote their sexual and reproductive health throughout their life span. Advocates, implementers, young people and government partners can help achieve that vision by ensuring that the following important policy provisions are translated into action:
Start early in life
Young people bear a significant burden of poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes, including unmet need for family planning, early marriage and childbearing, maternal death, gender-based violence and HIV. However, when families, communities and nations protect and advance adolescent and youth reproductive rights, young people are empowered to stay healthy and take advantage of education and economic opportunities throughout their lives. We know when these investments happen early in life as well as throughout the life course, they help foster more gender equitable and healthier attitudes and behaviors. So why wait? Let’s embrace the tenets of the policy and invest in young people’s health and rights today.
More money, more tracking
The Youth in Development policy clearly calls for the implementation of evidence-based programs and interventions. The Youth Health and Rights Coalition (PDF) looks forward to supporting this effort with the range of tools and resources developed to effectively implement evidence-based sexual and reproductive health interventions. But we need more than guidance to truly protect and promote the well-being of young people. Advancing youth development will require more funding, better data collection to track investments and outcomes, robust partnerships across sectors, and strong commitment across the agency. It’s a challenge, but one worth taking.
“Nothing about us, without us!”
Many of the young people who are members and partners of the Youth Health and Rights Coalition often call upon this phrase to express the importance of meaningful and ongoing youth engagement, something which is still too often missing in development today. The policy puts the importance of youth participation and engagement front and center of the USAID programming process and emphasizes the need to support more meaningful and equal partnerships with young people while building capacity of local youth-led and youth-serving organizations. USAID’s dedication to civil society consultations to inform the development of the policy was an important first step to put words into action. So let’s keep it up and continue to engage young people as we move forward with the implementation of the policy.
We applaud USAID for recognizing how critical it is to meaningfully engage youth across the diverse countries where the Agency works and look forward to future collaborations. Only together can we succeed in meeting the sexual and reproductive rights and health of all young people and work with them to fulfill their full potential.
The Youth Health and Rights Coalition (PDF) is comprised of advocacy and implementing organizations who, in collaboration with young people and adult allies, are working to advance the sexual and reproductive rights and health of adolescents and youth around the world. The YHRC advocates with key decision makers to prioritize funding and support for comprehensive adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive rights and health policies and practices. Their goal is to ensure young people in the developing world have the sexual and reproductive rights and health information, tools, commodities, and quality services necessary to make healthy and informed choices about their own lives.
Member organizations of the coalition include: Advocates for Youth, American Jewish World Service, Americans for Informed Democracy, CARE, Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), Family Care International, FHI 360, Georgetown University-Institute for Reproductive Health, Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Guttmacher Institute, International Center for Research on Women, International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region, International Women’s Health Coalition, Ipas, John Snow, Inc., Marie Stopes International-US, PATH, Pathfinder International, Plan International USA, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Population Action International, Population Reference Bureau, Population Services International, Public Health Institute, Save the Children, and Women Deliver.