Exchanging views on sexuality & youth empowerment

It’s always inspiring to see people come together to share their views and opinions about sexuality and youth empowerment and how to reach out to other youth with knowledge about these issues.

At this year’s annual conference held on February 1st 2018, representatives of FEMA clubs from secondary schools across the country met to do exactly that. This year’s theme was “Saying No to Gender-based violence” including female genital mutilation (FGM), early marriage, sexual abuse and more.

Some key areas of emphasis from the conference are noted below:

  • Behaviour change takes time
  • Gender-based violence is likely to continue

But change is on the horizon thanks to knowledgeable and empowered young people, who are continually making their voices heard, pushing for change at the policy level and at the community level by engaging all gatekeepers. These young adults remain positive that progress or change is inevitable.

The main message shared among participations is that young people should not give up because policies and legal frameworks already exist to protect the rights of young people among other citizens.
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The panel consisted of youth, policymakers and advocates, including Ms. Halima Shariff, Director of Advance Family Planning Tanzania.

Proper family planning initiatives to promote country’s economy

Despite various government initiatives designed to boost the health sector in the country, there have been challenges affecting the supply of contraceptives at a few health centres, which offer family planning services, especially in rural areas. James Mlali, project implementation manager at the Tanzania Communication and Development Center (TCDC), shared these observations while addressing the media over the weekend.

Mlali said the challenges are due to insufficient budget allocated towards family planning initiatives, something which has contributed to many Tanzanians failing to use family planning adequately, particularly those residing in rural areas. Mlali added that TCDC, together with key family planning stakeholders, has been pushing for a budget increase for the health sector and specifically on family planning in order to push for increased use of modern family planning methods.

“Unless the government sees the importance of family planning, society will always be faced with countless challenges, such as poverty and lack of education for most who live in rural areas. When people lack family planning methods, then there is no proper control of birth. This, according to Mlali, increases the number of dependents within a family. “When you have many dependents in a family, most of the income is used to feed them meaning other areas will not be developed or pursued,” Mlali added.

Since Tanzania gained independence more than five decades ago, most people living in rural areas continue to be affected by poverty to this present day. This is mainly due to the fact that most people in households depend on one person, either the father or mother. In addition, most productive people in rural areas are women and when these women birth and raise children every now and then, without proper of family planning, the household remains trapped in a cycle of poverty. This is the unfortunate predicament facing many rural households that are faced with increasingly more mouths to feed and lower levels of income, which inevitably increases poverty levels of rural families, said Mlali.

He added that for the country to achieve the industrialization drive, it is important for the country to invest heavily on family planning. In addition, the government must also make sure that the increase in population go hand-in-hand with the available resources and economic situation of the country. Mlali further explained this scenario by adding that we can have a high population, but again as a country, are we producing enough to cater to the population? If we look at the example of post-secondary education, are graduates getting employment opportunities after completing school? Mlali asked. This is an important aspect to consider particularly given the close correlation between employment and economic growth.

‘When a country attains a middle economy, it is important for the people to depend on themselves economically.” This is very important and it is precisely where our country should focus on, Mlali concluded.

 

Tanzania Moving Forward with FP2020 Commitments

Just a few months after Tanzania revitalized its FP2020 commitments in London in July this year, pace to broaden access to family planning services and ensure increase uptake is gaining momentum.

The government has recently launched a national campaign against teenage pregnancy demanding local government authorities to take charge in protecting young girls, and monitoring progress in reducing teenage pregnancy cases. The teenage pregnancy rate increased from 23% in 2010 to 27% in 2015, curtailing opportunities for young girls to complete their education.

Reports on one district of Mpwapwa in Dodoma Region show that 250 girls aged 15-19 failed to complete their secondary education due to pregnancy. And as a result, these girls, like others in such circumstances across the country, are barred from returning to school.

The government move, along with current efforts to finalize the Adolescent Health Strategy, is part of implementing its FP2020 commitments, which include scaling up the provision of adolescent reproductive health services to empower and enable young people make informed decisions.

Tanzania has also committed to increase domestic resources for family planning to 17 billion Tanzanian shillings by 2020, as well as reduce contraceptive stock outs from 70% to 40%.  In addition, the government and family planning stakeholders including development partners, are currently developing the second National Family Planning Costed Implementation Plan (2017-2022) to provide a framework for continuous investment in family planning with a focus on high impact interventions.

Other countries’ FP2020 commitments are found in this summary document here and the full Summit outcomes document here.

 

International Day of the Girl Child – The Power of Social Media

11 October has been marked as the International Day of the Girl around the world. The day aims to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.

To mark this day, Halima Shariff, Director of the Advance Family Planning project in Tanzania, shared the following video messages. Thanks to the power of social media, the messages reached Tanzanians far and wide.

English Message

 

Swahili Message

 

The videos have been shared nationally through social media platforms reaching individuals of all ages and parts of the country. Here’s a snapshot of some of the shares from some social media influencers in Tanzania:

 

TFP - 1

 

TZ FP - 3

 

TZFP - 2

Joint Letter of Appeal to the United Republic of Tanzania

On 03 August 2017, the Commissioner Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in the United Republic of Tanzania and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, together with the Chairperson of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, transmitted a Joint Letter of Appeal to the President of the United Republic of Tanzania regarding the statement made on 22 June 2017 to the effect that pregnant girls and teen mothers will not be allowed to attend school.

The Joint Letter of Appeal expressed the view of the Commission and Committee that this statement runs the risk of undermining the right to education and the right to equality of girls, and urged the State to fulfil its obligations concerning these rights in terms of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

The original Joint Letter of Appeal to the United Republic of Tanzania can be found here: http://www.achpr.org/news/2017/08/d296/

Commodity Availability: Focus on What Women Want

Most, if not all, reproductive health partners say: ”No commodity, no program,” as they ponder how best to reach women and girls with life-saving commodities including contraceptives. The focus has for many years remained on target number of those reached or to be reached with various services including contraceptives.

Yet ensuring access to family planning (FP) services is beyond setting target numbers only. But also, and increasingly important, is to ensure clients rights are upheld, which includes many more aspects beyond meeting clients’ needs for information, counseling and their method choice through informed decision-making. It also means empowering them to participate, provide feedback on services rendered and be involved in accountability issues.

Studies in a number of developing countries shows that ensuring method mix, choice and having adequate skilled service providers in place, have been a constant struggle and challenge. Coercion to using contraceptives methods or to pregnancy by service providers or intimate partners, respectively, continue to characterize a number of family planning programs worldwide.

A recent post-London FP Summit consultative meeting that brought CSOs from the North and the South, donors and researchers, explored the rights-based approach (RBA) and acknowledged the need for doing ‘business unusual’. This means apart from focusing on quality, voluntary, informed choice and decision making as well as addressing privacy and confidentiality, the FP movement (governments, CSOs, donors, private sector, etc) should be more intentional in ensuring that services are non-discriminatory and equitable.

They also ought to put in place clients’ empowerment, their autonomy, and participation, while engaging different structures, processes, and actors including youth, to promote and ensure accountability at all levels. It means applying a human rights lens in the family planning / reproductive health program.

Admittedly, the RBA move is complex because it interrogates socio-cultural practices, and political contexts and is subject to different interpretation, but based on evidence the good news is that once integrated in FP program, RBA contributes to increased reproductive outcomes, and reduced coercion and intimate partner violence.

There is already evidence that shows that increasingly countries and donors are thinking about how to incorporate human rights into the design and execution of family planning programs, because globally, respecting, protecting, and fulfilling rights of individuals is acknowledged as key to advancing family planning and the broader sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) agenda.

Admittedly, “rights” is an unfinished agenda in FP and SRHR arena, however, given the existing Results-based family planning index, that adheres to human rights and empowerment principles for FP, and other protocols, there is great hope for progress.

As countries begin to implement their respective FP2020 commitments made in 2017, RBA will certainly feature in national consultations, as well as Costed Implementation Plans (CIPs). Contributing to global 120 million more users with family planning information, services and supplies by 2020, also means paying attention to women’s, girls’ and men’s human rights as they relate to family planning.

Youth: The Pillar of Social Transformation

One of the biggest wins at the London Summit on Family Planning held on July 11th, 2017, is the engagement of young people in almost all panels and consultations, underscoring the reality that youth are both beneficiaries and key actors in sexual and reproductive health interventions across countries.

About 15 young people from a number of developing countries formed the Summit’s Youth Advisory Group that demonstrated the dynamism young people have, once empowered and given opportunities to act. And youthful countries have no choice but to open doors to these upcoming champions and youth networks in their respective societies.

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“I have listened and learnt a lot from the various sessions at the Summit, and I see a lot of opportunities to rally other young people around SRHR issues in my country,” said Qaisar Roonjha from Pakistan. Globally adolescent and youth constitute the largest group of over 1.2 billion people aged 10 – 19 years, the majority of whom (89%) live in developing countries.

Meaningful youth engagement through knowledge building, funding of youth-led programs, and sustained mentorship, is an opportunity for countries to harness youth potential in transforming their respective societies. And the SRHR focus, which includes family planning services, is an investment towards attaining socio-economic development.

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Today, a number of countries in sub-Sahara Africa, Tanzania included, are grappling with high fertility rates within a resource-stricken environment leading to high dependency ratios and poverty. Unfortunately, adolescents and youth are among those who contribute to and impacted by these conditions.

Therefore, with the right investment in engaging young people, building their knowledge, and granting them opportunities to access and make contraceptive choices, transformation in developing countries is inevitable.

The Summit’s Youth Advisory Group move to develop an Accountability Framework to guide the Group members in mobilizing fellow young people at country level to undertake youth-led social accountability and advocacy initiatives, is a solid step forward.

The framework will open doors for youth to participate in as well as monitor implementation of commitments made by their governments intended to scale up SRHR access. Success is more likely if this growing ‘army’ of knowledgeable youth across countries is tirelessly mentored to acquire greater heights in life while resources continue to be directed to youth-led initiatives.

It is indeed in this spirit that the Advance Family Planning (AFP) and partners – HDT and TCDC – embarked on a partnership journey November last year with the Tanzania Adolescent and Youth SRHR Coalition (TAYARH), also represented in the Youth Advisory Working Group, to push for youth meaningful engagement in SRHR especially family planning.