On December 16th, Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) and Knowledge SUCCESS hosted the fourth and final session in the second module of the Connecting Conversations series: Parents, Preachers, Partners, and Phones: Engaging Critical Influencers in Improving Young People’s Reproductive Health. This particular session focused on the use of digital approaches in conversations around voluntary family planning, access to reproductive health care, gender norms, and power relations. In this session, we heard from Aisha George, Executive Coordinator of Hidden Pockets Collective in India, Dr. Lianne Gonsalves, Technical Officer at the World Health Organization (WHO), and Alu Azege, Country Lead for Love Matters Naija in Nigeria.
Missed this session? Read the summary below or access the recordings.
Both Ms. George and Ms. Azege shared what their respective organizations were doing to engage youth on digital platforms in both India and Nigeria. Ms. George discussed some of the challenges of reaching adolescents and young people in India, which includes policies that make it difficult (if not impossible) to discuss reproductive health with those under 18, and that a significant portion of young people do not have access to the internet. Hidden Pockets Collective has worked to overcome these obstacles by engaging with young people on various social media platforms as well as through audio podcasts. These audio podcasts, named Pocket Shalla, are shared through Soundcloud and Bluetooth as audio files so that youth can download them and listen at their convenience.
Ms. Azege discussed some of the ways that Love Matters Naija engages young people on Facebook through skits, video dramas, and radio dramas. Love Matters also uses podcasts on Soundcloud as well as graphics for their young audience. These platforms are used to talk about sexually transmitted infections and issues like gender-based violence, and help young people connect to care and resources. She also explained the importance of using WhatsApp, as you don’t need a lot of data to have the application on your phone, and it allows younger people whose internet connection may not be as strong to access resources and care as well. Dr. Gonsalves emphasized the importance of both Ms. George’s and Ms. Azege’s work by stating that there needs to be engagement across multiple channels and real-time content adjustments based on audience feedback.
“We have to be on platforms where the youth are and act like influencers to give younger people accurate information.” – Ms. George
Ms. Azege talked about the success that Love Matters Naija has with personal storytelling practices. She explains that personal stories can create the content and intervention-based practices young people would like to curate for themselves or their work. Another thing that makes story-telling compelling, she points out, is the power of stories being told the way youth want them to be told.
“No one is telling their stories in a different tone or language or color.” – Ms. Azege
Ms. George discussed the role of language in sharing information about reproductive health care. This proved especially difficult because of the vast diversity in languages and dialects in India, but it was essential to reach as many people as possible. She also talked about the importance of having youth choose their own topics of discussion and write scripts for young people themselves to read on the podcast. She mentioned how young people critically inform the direction of the podcasts and learn about reproductive health and other topics as they’re preparing a podcast episode, and reading in their own voices.
Dr. Gonsalves emphasized the need to integrate young people into processes instead of dropping interventions and resources on them. She explained that young people can and should be a part of every stage of developing a digital approach—planning, designing, implementation, and moderation—because they know how to make the content they want to see. She also emphasized that when engaging communities, it is essential to remember that engaging youth on digital platforms includes remuneration where appropriate and developing safeguards in order to actively protect them.
“We need to keep in mind two things: one, engagement of youth also means remuneration of youth where appropriate…We need to be looking at what remuneration looks like. And the other one is safeguarding…how do we make sure that we keep the [young person’s] best interests at the center, that we are protecting them, that if they are being courageous enough to open up to let us know about things that are traumatic, that we are able to do our due diligence to be able to look after them.” – Ms. Gonsalves
Ms. George talked about the use of songs, movie dialogue, and dramas to educate young people on topics regarding reproductive health. They try to make these topics as funny and as lighthearted as possible, as young people may feel uncomfortable listening to information about reproductive health. Dr. Gonsalves added to this by explaining that there is a line between doing something culturally relevant and trying too hard; the further you move away from that, the more likely you’re going to end up on the wrong side of that line. So rather than a large NGO trying to make a TikTok channel, it is recommended that organizations instead facilitate young influencers who already have a footprint among young audiences to create and produce content to share reproductive health information.
Dr. Gonsalves stated that at the global level, the WHO has been monitoring innovations in delivery and reproductive health care for young people. There is an acceleration of groups relying on digital platforms to ensure service continuity, and telemedicine is becoming much more common in many countries.
Ms. Azege discussed that Love Matters Naija places a significant emphasis on partnerships with service providers and leverages young people already engaged in digital platforms to share information about reproductive health care that is readily available to them. For example, the PSI SFH supported commercial online platform allows any young person to obtain contraceptives with free delivery. With partnerships, Love Matters Naija has been able to show young people that this care is available and direct them to non- judgemental, youth-friendly, and effective care.
Ms. George talked about the hardships faced in India at the beginning of the pandemic and the lack of certainty around whether or not youth could see a doctor. This caused a huge strain on mental healthcare, which was followed by debate around switching to telemedicine. There were also difficulties reaching people who were traveling back to their villages because they had no internet connection. To tackle this, the Hidden Pockets Collective was able to set up Instagram Live videos and other video streams to speak to doctors on social media for accurate information.
WHO Digital Resource
Dr. Gonsalves emphasized being mindful about expectations of digital health care and to link younger audiences with trusted providers who offer vetted, nonjudgmental, and youth-friendly care to ensure continuity of care. Both Ms. George and Ms. Azege talked about the intersection of technology and infrastructure. Youth must be assured that trusted clinics, doctors, providers, and care partners will be there. Programs must take the time and effort to ensure that young people receive the confidential, nonjudgmental, all-inclusive care and attention they deserve and desire.
“We cannot just deliver messages but also provide linkages to vetted, youth-friendly, non judgemental care should someone want to follow through. We also need to be mindful of the enabling environment.” – Dr. Gonsalves
“Connecting Conversations” is a series of discussions on adolescent and youth reproductive health—hosted by FP2020 and Knowledge SUCCESS. Over the next year, we will be co-hosting these sessions every two weeks or so on a variety of topics through five modules. We’re using a more conversational style, encouraging open dialogue and allowing plenty of time for questions. We guarantee you will be coming back for more!
The series will be divided into five modules.
Our first module, which started on July 15 and ran through September 9, focused on a foundational understanding of adolescent development and health. Presenters—including experts from organizations such as the World Health Organization, Johns Hopkins University, and Georgetown University—offered a framework for understanding adolescent and youth reproductive health, and implementing stronger programs with and for young people.
Our second module, Parents, Preachers, Partners, Phones: Engaging Critical Influencers to Improve Young People’s Reproductive Health, began on November 4 and concluded on December 16. Speakers included experts from Love Matters Naija, Hidden Pockets India, Pathfinder International, and Tearfund United Kingdom. Discussions explored key learnings on engaging parents, religious leaders and communities, partners, and digital approaches to improve young people’s reproductive health.