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Young People are not beneficiaries, we are the Agents of Change

Reminiscing time from my mid adolescence of when had a vaginal infection, I visited the gynaecological department of a government run hospital near my house.  I was very nervous in the first place because sexual health and reproductive health issues of young people is usually scrutinised and tabooed. I mustered all my courage and visited the hospital. There were adult women waiting their turn for antenatal and postnatal care. When it was my turn, the doctor threw me a hostile and judgmental look. Without a proper conversation followed by a harsh tone, the service provider directly asked me whether I was pregnant. The question further made me uncomfortable and I immediately told her my problem. She was very angry with me for wearing tight jeans and scolded me. She asked me to come later wearing loose pants as she will have to see the infection. With such attitude by the doctor, I left the hospital untreated and went to some private clinic instead.

In relation to my bad experience with the SRH service for youths in Nepal; we can imagine the situation of young women and adolescents in the rural and remote parts of Nepal. It shows the lack of attention we are giving to the health and well being of adolescents and young people particularly their sexual and reproductive health.

Nepal as well as other South Asian countries are in the phase of demographic transition where there has been a rapid population growth of young people. Hence, it is time we invest in young people, their health and well-being especially in the area of sexuality as well as their active involvement in policy making and leadership activities. If we invest in young people and their health, including access to stigma-free SRH services at present, only then we can imagine the creation of a healthy, sensitized and empowered future.

Although unacknowledged, young people are also affected by the issues related to SRH. Hence, all forms of investments should be allocated accordingly. This would include training of health service providers, while policy makers ought to recognise the non-homogenous and diverse needs of young people. The SRH services provider should also address the intersectional facets within the young population. The attitude of service providers should be stigma-free; in addition, other factors of the service should also be inclusive such as infrastructures, information and so on.

To achieve the dreams that we collectively aspire i.e. access to stigma-free SRH services for youths, we need the contribution of all individuals and collectives. Youth participation in health systems should not be tokenistic. Instead, meaningful youth participation should be promoted. The true leadership capabilities of young people should be recognized and the platform for leadership should be provided accordingly. Intergenerational mentorship should be promoted for the meaningful youth participation in developing, implementing and monitoring policies and service deliveries relevant to their SRH.  The youths of today also need to prepare the next generation for the leadership position.

We also need to hit the root problem and work collectively to challenge and question the hierarchical social structure that is promoting the stigma and denial of SRH services for youths. Similarly, the access of stigma-free SRH services should be perceived as a fundamental human right by all including health service providers, policy makers, administrations and other concerned individuals and institutions. The stigma-free SRH service should be provided without any discrimination based on class, caste, gender identity, sexual orientation, status of disability, marital status, geography, literacy status, religious background or any other ground. In order to achieve the SGDs, the investment in young people, especially young women are very important and their meaningful participation and leadership in developing, implementing and monitoring policies and service deliveries relevant to their SRH is extremely crucial.

Article by: Pushpa Joshi, Youth Champion

Pushpa Joshi is co-founder of YoSHAN and also a youth champion at Asia Safe Abortion Partnership. She is a young feminist activist with a more than six years of experience in the field of Sexual and Reproductive health rights.

Twitter: @Pushpajoshi23