A Young Woman's Vision for Global Development

Jovana Ríos, Board of Directors

At this year’s Women Deliver conference, youth leaders had the opportunity to share our vision and priorities for the future global development agenda. I was pleased to share the stage with advocates from Egypt, Indonesia, and Greece – Ahmed Awadalla, Yulia Dwi Andriyanti, and Nefeli Themeli, respectively – to discuss the opportunities and challenges in ensuring that the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people remains front and center in this critical time when governments and the United Nations are evaluating the global development agenda post-2015, as well as evaluating progress towards fulfilling the ICPD Programme of Action.

When the ICPD Programme of Action was agreed to at the International Conference on Population and Development, I was only six years old. Many of the young people with whom I currently work, as a civil society representative in various post-2015 consultations, weren’t even born. In 2000, when the Millennium Development Goals were adopted, few of us were old enough to participate. Being a part of the post-2015 process matters so much to me because it is time for my generation not only to be heard, but also to have a seat at the negotiation table.

With nearly half the world's population under the age of 25, today’s generation of youth is the largest the world has ever known. We have an unprecedented opportunity to transform global economies, politics, and development strategies. We have more access to political processes and decision makers. We also have the experience and knowledge needed to build consensus, develop effective approaches to the world’s toughest problems, and support each other's work both on the ground and through the Internet.

The leaders who developed the Programme of Action provided us with a solid foundation, but implementation has been slow, funding has been insufficient, and the world has changed significantly in the 20 years since governments agreed to the Cairo agenda. We now face new global threats, like climate change, that intensify existing sexual and reproductive health and rights challenges. And the shifting landscape of international aid has many countries caught in what some call the “middle-income trap.”

Over the last two decades, economic growth in my region, Latin America and the Caribbean, has produced regional and national statistics that mask glaring inequalities within and among countries. Seventy percent of poor people around the world live in middle-income countries, and more than 50 million people in my region live on less than $2 USD a day. As a region, Latin America has the highest rates of inequality, yet international donors are withdrawing much-needed funds for sexual and reproductive health and other key development issues.

Income inequality manifests itself in all spheres of life, and health is no exception. Adolescent pregnancy rates in Latin America are among the highest in the world, and in some countries, these rates are increasing – particularly among girls living in poor, indigenous, and rural communities. Nearly 40% of young women in Latin America become pregnant before the age of 20, and nearly one in five births are to adolescent mothers.

My generation has made it very clear that poverty eradication is not enough. We also need to eradicate inequality.

So, how can we use this platform to ensure the post-2015 development agenda is founded on respect for human rights?

First, the new agenda must address young people’s unique sexual and reproductive health needs. This means we must identify and analyze the gender and age dimensions of each right, and carefully examine its impact on each aspect of women’s health throughout the lifespan. IPPF’s Declaration on Sexual Rights is a great resource that can be used during this process.

Young people must also continue to participate in international processes and work together to ensure that our voices are heard. It is critical that we bring our expertise to government delegations and take part in key meetings, like the regional conferences to review the ICPD Programme of Action. Additionally, we must take advantage of our knowledge of new technologies, e-learning tools, and innovations that will help us reach our goals.

Last, we need a pledge of funding to build the capacity of civil society organizations and to advocate not only for supportive national government health budgets and policies, but also government accountability for the commitments they have made. Progress is possible when young people are empowered to make decisions about our lives, individually and internationally. It is time to take action to enact our collective vision for global development and uphold the human rights we want, need, and deserve.


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