On March 22, 2022, Knowledge SUCCESS hosted Meaningfully Engaging Youth: A Snapshot of the Asia Experience. The webinar highlighted experiences from four organizations in the Asia region working to co-create youth-friendly programs, ensure quality FP/RH services for youth, develop youth-friendly policies, and meet the FP/RH needs of youth at different levels of the health system. Did you miss the webinar or want a recap? Read on for a summary, and follow the links below to watch the recording.
Meaningfully Engaging Youth: A Snapshot of the Asia Experience was organized and hosted by the Knowledge SUCCESS project and moderated by Grace Gayoso Pasion, Knowledge SUCCESS Regional Knowledge Management Officer for Asia. Speakers included:
The speakers discussed their experiences engaging young people in co-designing adolescent health programs, interacting with policymakers and program implementers to discuss FP/RH issues for young people, young people’s involvement in building social accountability in their communities, and important considerations for programs that seek to provide disability-friendly sexual and reproductive health services for young people.
The USAID ReachHealth team used HCD to talk to adolescents and their allies; in the process, they learned to look at FP/RH challenges from their perspective. The insights drawn from these in-depth conversations helped the project learn about the realities of being an adolescent and young person in the Philippines, including the SRH issues they experience. One key insight that emerged from the workshops was that there needs to be a greater emphasis on preventing first pregnancies, rather than rapid repeat pregnancies. Another key insight was that parents are not often equipped with communication tools to help them discuss potentially taboo topics such as love, sex, and relationships. Based on these insights, implementation plans were designed to effectively reach young people in the Philippines and engage them on FP/RH.
“One key insight that emerged from the workshops was that there needs to be a greater emphasis on preventing first pregnancies, rather than rapid repeat pregnancies.”
The goal of the five-year USAID ReachHealth project is to reduce unmet need for FP/RH services and decrease teen pregnancy rates in the Philippines. The HCD process has helped the team design a national youth communication campaign that has already reached thousands of adolescents. The website will be launched this year, with campaign materials in the Filipino for easy access by adolescents and their parents. The Facebook page has already reached more than 23.4 million unique viewers, most of whom are parents (34–54 years of age) of adolescent children.
Jeffry ended his presentation with a plea to program implementers: “We need to talk with [young people]. We have to learn from them. And we need to continue partnership with them in implementing new, responsive-to-their-needs interventions in the communities.”
Young people around the world face many challenges, some of which are heard and understood by service providers and decision-makers. However, it’s common for decision-makers to assume they know what youth need and design plans based on their assumptions, rather than engaging youth in the creation of initiatives meant to affect their lives and wellbeing. The YP Foundation in India is on a social equity, justice, and rights mission for youth voices to be heard. They do so by building young people’s leadership and ecosystems to engage them directly in decision-making.
Stepping Towards Enhancing Policy Structures (STEPS) is an autonomous, youth-led volunteer group working towards foregrounding meaningful youth engagement (MYE) in national- and state-level policies and programs focusing on young people’s health and wellbeing. Young peoples’ leadership is nurtured and strengthened so that they themselves can advocate with policymakers and decision-makers to inform initiatives designed to meet their unique needs.
The Association of Youth Organizations Nepal (AYON) supports young people’s ability to monitor local public services for youth and gender responsiveness. AYON forms and coordinates local youth groups, strengthening their capacity to advocate for youth- and gender-related issues through training and mentorship. The youth groups use the Community Score Card (CSC), a social accountability tool, to carry out periodic monitoring, discussion, and action plan development with service providers so that needed changes can be documented and implemented. For example, groups have advocated for gender-neutral toilets, access to sanitary products, control measures for human trafficking and gender-based violence, efforts to reduce pay gaps between female and male labor workers, and abolishing the harmful practices of child marriage and menstrual segregation. Through this work, AYON encourages rebuilding a spirit of volunteerism, cultivating local mentors at the community level, and coordinating and aligning efforts with the government.
“AYON forms and coordinates local youth groups, strengthening their capacity to advocate for youth- and gender-related issues through training and mentorship.”
FPAN, in partnership with the Family Federation of Finland, is implementing a pilot project providing FP/RH services to those living with disabilities. FPAN implements multiple approaches, including home-based and community-based care through Reproductive Health Female Volunteers (RHFV). It also mobilizes peer educators through social media, including a Facebook Messenger group that youth can use to talk directly to peer educators if they don’t feel comfortable openly discussing their disabilities. FPAN aims to mainstream and fully integrate these services within its existing offerings.
Sanjiya Shrestha—Nepal’s first blind model—is one of six FPAN peer educators living with a disability. She supports peers in her community through FPAN’s Youth Champion initiative. Sanjiya shared how she uses Facebook Messenger to help young people living with disabilities access information, counseling, and services. FPAN’s Youth Champions are active in schools and communities, engaging youth and their parents as well as service providers.
The group also conducts health awareness camps to improve service delivery techniques for youth with disabilities. Sanjiya also discussed the various communication techniques needed to deliver services depending on the disability, including providing audio descriptions, sign language, and models for hands-on learning.
Young people are a diverse group, with varying SRH needs based on their gender, location, ability, sexual orientation, etc. The speakers all emphasized the critical need to meaningfully engage young people early on, as well as throughout the design and implementation process, in order to truly develop youth-responsive programs. Youth should be the designers, not just the implementers, of programs meant for them. The speakers also recommended actively engaging young men and collaborating with government stakeholders to ensure that programs and resources are aligned. They also talked about the importance of engaging parents, service providers, and policymakers to ensure that they understand young people and their SRH needs.
Youth are the leaders of today—not tomorrow—for issues that impact their lives.
Question for USAID ReachHealth: How do you ensure parents use the Facebook page? We partner with the Department of Health and Commission on Population to promote the page. In addition, the most important thing for engaging parents is to ensure that all posts contain quality content.
Question for FPAN: It looks like women with disabilities have been reached more than males. Are there cultural challenges that men are facing? We have six peer educators with disabilities, and the majority of them are females. This may be a contributing factor. Also, we find that men visit health clinics less often than women, which may be due in part to the cultural perception that “men are strong.”
Question for YP Foundation India: What learning or experiences can you share on engaging men and boys in FP and SRHR? The majority of our 52 members come from diverse backgrounds and diverse genders, including from the LGBT community. Social and behavior change programs are important to engage with men for FP/RH advocacy. The more activities that are centered on male engagement, the more they will be engaged.
Question for AYON: What advice do you have for organizations that have realized they have not been successful in engaging youth? Youth should be involved in the design and planning, not just implementation. In Nepal, we [youth] are over 40% of the population, so you cannot ignore us.