Raising Our Voices: Young Leaders at the International Conference on Family Planning

By: Ms. Makda Mikre Tessema, Let Girls Lead AGALI fellow, YWCA Ethiopia

The International Family Planning Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia included more than 4000 people from all over the world bringing together family planning educators, researchers, practitioners and most importantly, the highest number of young people attending an international conference.

Before the official opening of the ICFP conference, I had the great honor to speak at the Family Planning + Social Good pre-conference event, representing Let Girls Lead’s Adolescent Girls Advocacy & Leadership Initiative and the YWCA of Ethiopia. Let Girls Lead empowers girls and their allies to lead social change, contributing to improved health, education, and livelihoods for over 3 million girls globally. I graduated from Let Girls Lead’s AGALI program in 2010, where I learned to lead changes that improve young people’s lives, including increasing their access to family planning.

Family Planning + Social Good brought together a global community of innovators around a shared vision to leverage technology and innovation to make the world a better place. The experience of being on the Family Planning + Social Good panel was very exhilarating. As a youth representative, I had the opportunity to raise my voice to speak out about the need for family planning for youth and by youth.

In my part of the discussion, I shared the YWCA’s experience leading family planning outreach campaigns with youth-focused priorities and programs. Also, I highlighted how YWCA-Ethiopia’s integrates youth in our SRH programs and how we engage youth with disabilities in all of our activities. The discussion was a productive, free flowing conversation that put young women, young people on the map. The experience of speaking on the global stage about my family planning work with youth was empowering.  

The conference brought the importance of family planning to the forefront and provided mechanisms for professionals to learn from each other. Site visits provided practical success stories and gave a place for young people to shine, to show their potential, and to ensure their place at the negotiating table.

Future family planning conferences should continue to engage young people and especially highlight the issue of youth living with disabilities. During the conference there was very little said about disability and its connection with family planning and young people, an important area for research and programs. Moreover, future conferences should highlight approaches that integrate family planning with other developmental programs to better serve young people around the world. 

Evidence demonstrates that family planning without the involvement of youth is futile. The coming decades will see a record number of young people entering prime reproductive ages, who will need the means to prevent unplanned pregnancies and to achieve healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies.  By engaging young people in integrated family planning and sexual and reproductive health initiatives, we will all have a better future.

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