The Ouagadougou Partnership’s Youth Think Tank advocates for youth inclusion in family planning policy and works to ensure that adolescents and young people have access to reproductive health information and care. Knowledge SUCCESS recently spoke with Oury Kamissoko, Youth Lead from Mali and head of the Youth Think Tank’s dissemination subcommittee, about young people’s access to family planning and the role of the Youth Think Tank.
“The weight of tradition and customs as well as the cost of contraceptive methods, which is always high for young people, are obstacles for us.” – Oury Kamissoko
The regional Think Tank Jeunes (“Youth Think Tank”) was established in 2016 by the Ouagadougou Partnership (OP) Coordination Unit and partners to ensure that the priorities for the 2016-2020 Acceleration Phase of the OP are adapted and determined by, for, and with youth. It aims to facilitate regular sharing of information and reflections and strengthen collaborations to ensure youth inclusion in family planning policy. It is managed under the presidency of the UCPO through a secretariat, a steering committee, and thematic groups in charge of ensuring reflections and exchanges around the themes of the roadmap. The Youth Think Tank’s three sub-committees are the training sub-committee, which aims to train young people in data collection and analysis of legislative, political, and programmatic frameworks, notably the Costed Implemented Plans (CIPs); the research and innovation sub-committee, which is in charge of documenting the implementation of adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health programs (including the CIPs) and the effective participation of young people, and the annual production of recommendations on what works or does not work according to young people in each country and the region; and the dissemination sub-committee, which supports the dissemination of information, good practices, and expertise produced by the Youth Think Tank’s members at various regional and international meetings.
Oury Kamissoko is responsible for the dissemination subcommittee of the Youth Think Tank. This youth lead from Mali is one of the torchbearers for youth inclusion in family planning policy and for access to information and sexual and reproductive health care for adolescents and young people. She is also vice president of the network of young ambassadors for reproductive health (RH) and family planning (FP) in Mali, social intervention officer of the Malian league for women’s rights, and technical consultant for the Francophone Africa region on the Merci Mon Héros (“Thank You My Hero”) campaign. She shares her thoughts on the role of the Youth Think Tank, and the challenges of young people for better access to FP and RH services in French-speaking West Africa.
Our role is to ensure that all adolescents and young people have access to reproductive health information and care, that our decision-makers issue implement decrees regarding the law on sexual and reproductive health, and that family planning is a national development priority.
To do this, we work with nongovernmental organizations, religious leaders, health care providers, parents, and young people themselves; no one is left behind. Beyond the community activities that we carry out, we also advocate with our decision-makers for the fulfillment of commitments made during certain activities, for example, exchange forums.
For young people to have access to voluntary family planning in the Ouagadougou Partnership countries [Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo], the Youth Think Tank must ensure that young people and adolescents are considered in the dynamics of the reproductive health and family planning movement and have access to information and family planning care.
The Youth Think Tank must be the voice of the voiceless, speaking for young people and ensuring that commitments made by the countries translate into concrete actions and that youth have a say in decisions concerning them. The Think Tank can also ensure that we are fully involved in the development and implementation of budgets for the National Action Plan.
Young people have been involved from the start of the Ouagadougou Partnership until today.
We have shown with determination, motivation, and dynamism that questions of sexual and reproductive health are subjects that concern us, that challenge us. In all the OP countries, we have made commitments and had initiatives that subsequently translated into concrete actions. For example, we can cite the decentralization of the network of young ambassadors from the capitals to our countries’ regions and the involvement and participation of young people with disabilities and vulnerabilities in our actions.
We have shown our ability to be responsible actors and stakeholders in the process of repositioning family planning in Francophone West Africa. At every step, we have demonstrated how ready we are to play a leading role in making decisions about our sexual and reproductive health. Today, in the Ouagadougou Partnership movement, we are key players, very active in advocacy.
Young people face enormous challenges and needs in terms of better access to sexual and reproductive health information and care. Our needs remain largely unmet. The weight of tradition and customs as well as the cost of contraceptive methods, which is always high for young people, are great obstacles affecting access to family planning and reproductive health care.
Another obstacle we face is quality of care. When we go to the health centers, we are not well received by the health providers and, often, we are subject to judgments from them. It’s not encouraging. It pushes young people to stay at home, not go where help they may need is available. They wonder how to do the right thing, or even what to do.
And, finally, what is still a big difficulty for us is that our parents do not talk to us about sexuality. There may be a lack of awareness of many aspects of sexual and reproductive health. These subjects are still taboo in our society because of social norms. And yet, it is at this age that we really need to be informed, to have cognizance of the related aspects.
Many things are being done in ensuring youth inclusion in family planning policy and access to family planning information and care, but we still call on the stakeholders involved in making FP available to adolescents and young people to act so that we achieve more flexibility on the part of society and more attention on the part of parents to the need to discuss sexual and reproductive health with their young offspring.