Thursday, 1 June 2017

#IniSuaraku: What Young People Think about Access to Reproductive Care

By Vania Santoso, Youth Engagement Officer

Young people got busy on their mobile phones to voice their opinions during the Adolescent Summit © UNICEFIndonesia/2017/Achmad Rifai

Yogyakarta: Each year, 1 June marks the Global Day of Parents, a day emphasizing the critical role of parents in the rearing of children. Children need to be nurtured and protected; no child should be a parent.

Thinking about this made me recall my experience at the National Adolescent Summit in Yogyakarta in March 2017 which aimed to address the issue of unplanned teen pregnancy.  

Some 70 young people, selected from 25 of Indonesia's 34 provinces, engaged in intense discussions on adolescent reproductive health access with representatives from the Government of Indonesia, UN agencies and NGOs. 

Naturally, in the "Twitter Capital of the World", debates spilled over onto social media. It was amazing to see young people boldly voicing their opinions and taking a stand on these sensitive issues, both online and offline. 

The three-day summit was jointly hosted by the National Family Planning Coordinating Board (BKKBN), John Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (JHCCP) and the Gates Foundation. U-Report, a youth polling platform, was used to give adolescents who could not attend a chance to have their voices heard.

In the lead up to the summit, U-Report collected video and photos from young people about their aspirations. This compilation video captures some of those dreams, but many will never reach their potential due to an unplanned pregnancy. 

U-Report asked young people across Indonesia about their knowledge and attitudes towards reproductive health as well as child marriage, which is linked to teen pregnancy. A poll of 1,380 young people showed as well as lack of knowledge, other factors such as poor access to contraceptives, rape and poverty also contribute to teen pregnancies.
The U-Report data presented to the youth organisations, research institutions, government bodies and UN agencies at the summit offered participants a glimpse of the bigger picture. The contribution of U-Reporters ensured that views of adolescents from all over the country were used to inform the discussions and influence the recommendations.

Leadership Dialogue with Melinda Gates (center on stage) and youth representatives © UNICEFIndonesia/2017/Vania Santoso

A number of high profile guest speakers and youth representatives debated the key issues, offering different perspectives to ensure that participants were well informed. 
Speakers included Laurike Moeliono from the Johns Hopkins Center for Communications Programs, Dr Robert Blum of Johns Hopkins University and Muhammad Auzan Huq from GenRe youth association.
Isaac Tri Octaviari from Universitas Gadjah Mada presented the findings from her qualitative research on adolescent reproductive health in nine provinces. “All respondents, which consisted of 114 couples of parents and 432 adolescents, said that reproductive health was perceived as a taboo issue, while most of them added that there was no reproductive health service for adolescents in their community,” she said.
In the afternoon, Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, facilitated a panel discussion on leadership with three youth representatives - Evi from Fatayat Nahdlatul Ulama (an Islamic organization), Dwi Ayu from Unala (a youth-friendly clinic run by UNFPA), and Berli from CIMSA (a medical students' organization). 

“You need to educate children when they’re young, talk about their bodies and how they work. Once they became young adolescents, you can talk about reproduction, menstruation, and more,” said Ibu Gates, responding to a question on how she opens up dialogue on sexual education at home with her children. 

“This is not one-time conversation, it is important to continue addressing these issues. Even if it’s uncomfortable, you have to talk about it, especially when kids start dating,” she added, encouraging all participants to have open and honest conversations with their parents and children. 

After three days of discussions, the youth representatives finalized the policy recommendation document titled “Adolescents’ Recommendation” with the support of facilitators from UNICEF, UNFPA, Rutgers WPF Indonesia and other youth-led organizations. The Recommendation covered three key areas: regulation, outreach to adolescents, and outreach to married adolescents. 
Of the 28 recommendations, one was particularly controversial – making contraceptives available to all. While one group thought universal access was needed to protect all sexually-active youth against teen pregnancy, another group argued that sex should only be for married couples.

After an intense debate, agreement was eventually reached, that “all stakeholders should widen the access and quality of health services for adolescents, as young key populations, give them counselling and specific reproductive health services according to their needs.” 

The Recommendation also asks government and other stakeholders to make sexual and reproductive health education a standard part of the school curriculum for adolescents aged 10-19 years, including those with special needs. Participants even prepared a suggested structure for reference. 

#IniSuaraku: For the Adolescent Summit U-Reporters created video and photos expressing their dreams  © UNICEFIndonesia/2017/Vania Santoso

Ambar Rahayu, who oversees family wellbeing and empowerment at BKKBN, stressed the importance of working together to improve reproductive health outcomes for adolescents. “Collaboration across ministries, with NGOs, the international community and the private sector is key to making change happen,” she said. “It’s not about blaming or eliminating an opinion that is different from yours. We have to foster understanding instead.” 
By presenting the opinions of youth to policy makers at the summit, U-Report used social media to amplify thousands of young people’s voices. These voices were able to feed into the formulation of the Adolescents' Recommendation ensuring policy makers have heard them loud and clear. 

It’s so much fun to know that it’s as easy as opening your mobile phone to make yourself heard, once you meet the right platform. Has your voice been heard? Join U-Report!

*This event was being documented online through a #livetweet by U-Report here.