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1.2 Billion Reasons Why Countries Must Empower Young People to Plan the Future

Young women in Senegal. PHOTO BY JONATHAN TORGOVNIK/REPORTAGE BY GETTY IMAGES

Young women in Senegal take part in a community empowerment program. Citizen groups are an ideal way for young people to get the practical skills they need to become more involved, hold their governments accountable, and shape their country’s future. Photo by Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images.


A tidal wave of youth is fast approaching the shores of adult society. It’s time to ensure they are part of the global conversation.


This piece originally appeared on HuffPost:

When I was growing up in Senegal, it was a very strict environment for the young. We were told when to speak and when not to speak, and if we tried to mingle with the adults while they were talking, we were likely to be shooed away.

As young people, we were rarely invited to make our voices heard.

But on our journey to empower young women and men with contraception, we must travel a different path than that traditional one of silencing the young while the older people make all the decisions.

Today, the largest generation of young people in the history of the world is about to enter adulthood. That’s 1.2 billion people who will soon need jobs, places to live, and a diverse array of lifelong health services.

This moment in history is a critical one for our global population.

In India, one million people turn 18 every month. That country alone will have to create 10 million new jobs per year in order to accommodate all the young people entering the workforce. And in Nigeria—whose population will soon outgrow that of the United States—40% of the population is under 14.

This moment in history—this demographic tipping point, as Melinda Gates calls it—is a critical one for our global population. A tidal wave of youth is fast approaching the shores of adult society, and their power and potential must have somewhere to go—some channel to flow into—if they are to embark on happy, healthy, productive lives.

The older generation can help define that channel, but we cannot do it alone. It’s time to ensure young people are part of the global conversation.

After all, they’ll be running the whole world soon enough.

It’s time for young people to speak

This topic will be much on the minds of policy-makers, donors, and advocates from around the world in London this week at the 2017 Family Planning Summit. Access to contraceptives and rights-based family planning services will be one of the most crucial determinants of this new generation’s success, because they empower young people to plan their futures.

To ensure their family planning programs are successful and meet the needs of their young populations, countries must give young people opportunities to be part of the process. That means leaders around the world must:

  1. Accept that young people’s voices are powerful and valuable, especially when it comes to making policies and strategies that affect them.
     
  2. Nurture youth leadership among civil society. Citizen groups are an ideal way for young people to get the practical skills they need to become more involved, hold their governments accountable, and shape their country’s future. Young health workers, journalists, activists—all have the power to reach their peers and communities in ways government officials rarely can.
     
  3. Promote jobs for women. The health sector, for example, holds enormous potential for women. While the majority of health workers today are women, far too many of the positions they hold are volunteer-based and far too few are leadership roles.

And all of these things must be accompanied by good governance and strong family planning programs. Unintentional pregnancies keep so many young people from ever having a chance to explore careers in health care or to contribute to the economic growth of their countries.

Youth ambassadors help bridge the generations

My hope is that during this Family Planning Summit, we can help build a bridge between the older and younger generations, and learn from one another.

I’m already learning from young people like Nina, Romaric, and Abou. They are three of 92 trained youth ambassadors who lead family planning advocacy campaigns across the nine francophone West African countries that make up the Ouagadougou Partnership, a coalition that’s working to give 2.2 million more people in the region access to family planning by 2020.

These youth ambassadors have boundless energy and an unparalleled determination to encourage their peers to take their roles in society seriously. And they’re gaining the life experience they need to become leaders in their countries.

“If I had one piece of advice for the youth in my country,” Nina says, “it would be this: You are the future of Burkina Faso. So it’s high time and critical that you engage in sexually responsible behavior and prioritize your sexual and reproductive health.”

It’s time to stop shooing young people away from the conversation, and start inviting them to help move the world forward.

This youth ambassador program is a great way to engage young people. In fact, the Ouagadougou Partnership model is one that other regions in Africa might explore, as more and more countries take ownership of their family planning programs.

A new era

Before us lies a new era of unknown potential. It’s time to stop shooing young people away from the conversation, and start inviting them to help move the world forward.

I have so many hopes for my son, my nieces, my nephews, and all young people. I hope they are given more chances than I had when I was younger to make their voices heard. I hope they get the health care they need. I hope they have opportunities to get the formal education they want, get great jobs, marry if and who they want, and have children when and if they wish.

But most of all, I hope we can give them the room and opportunities they need to flourish.

As part of the Family Planning Summit, IntraHealth International has committed to helping countries build the health workforces they need to care for their young populations. Join the conversation this week with IntraHealth and others from around the world: #HerFuture #HealthWorkersCount