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Be seen! Be heard! Youth at the 3rd PMNCH Partners’ Forum

By: Yemurai Nyoni and Lindsay Menard-Freeman, Women Deliver

This 3rd PMNCH Partners’ Forum is the first large-scale involvement of young people to date. Out of the approximately 1000 participants here in Johannesburg, nearly 10% are youth representatives under 30. This is a great start, and a clear opportunity to increase meaningful youth engagement in the forum and others like it. Will PMNCH consider including a youth constituency to its other seven constituencies while mainstreaming youth within and throughout? We really hope so.

Partners’ Forum representatives come together from governments, civil society, development agencies, private sector, and the media to deliberate on how best to accelerate progress for women, children and adolescents in the context of RMNCH. Youth representatives are uniquely positioned to put our issues front and center, and to magnify our contributions to advancing maternal and newborn health.

Over 7.3 million girls under the age of 18 give birth every year and over 70,000 adolescents die annually from causes related to childbirth and pregnancy. This is not because young people are not demanding access to prevention — or youth-friendly services, comprehensive sexuality education, and sexual and reproductive rights. This is not because young people aren’t demanding an end to child marriage or harmful traditional practices like female genital circumcision. Quite the opposite, actually.

Young people are demanding these things, and very loudly, but not at the table where decisions are being made at all levels. Youth are well positioned to help set the RMNCH agenda because their lives are on the line. Preventing adolescent pregnancy means something different when you are mere years away from adolescence and when you are most affected. This is why adolescent girls and young women must be front and center in our advocacy efforts, strategies, investments, policy-making and programming.

We must jointly demand for the provision of comprehensive, accessible, affordable and appropriate youth friendly SRH services that meet the diverse needs of young people. This can be done through requesting that government, civil society, media, development agencies and private sector representatives to implement the recommendations made by young people during the youth-pre-forum.

As we discuss our concerns and recommendations with different stakeholders through these next two days, let’s do away with the technical jargon and politically correct phrases that have failed to bring us results so far. Young people must be seen and heard in order to fully capture the lived experiences of youth whose SRH rights are being violated. The time is now and young people are committed to deliver.

Yemurai Nyoni, a 24-year-old youth activist from Bulawayo Zimbabwe, is the founder and Director of DotYouth Organisation, one of the Women Deliver 100 Young Leaders, and a youth representative on the PMNCH Adolescent Expert Advisory Group.

Lindsay Menard-Freeman is Manager of Advocacy and Communications at Women Deliver, where the focus of her work is youth and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

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