Many of us who spend our time in the youth sexual and reproductive health (YSRH) world don’t often cross paths with those in the business of economic empowerment and livelihoods programs for young people. Although both worlds are aware of the converging paths, funding streams generally keep us operating on parallel roads. Therefore, I was pleased to facilitate a panel session this morning at the conference: “Exploring the Intersection of Adolescent Girls’ Reproductive Health and Economic Empowerment.” During a lively session, panelists shared their experiences with both issues for girls. Some of the themes were:
- Even though we are aware of the problem, the data on SRH and economic empowerment for girls, taken together for developing countries, is shocking. The rates of HIV, maternal mortality and morbidity, poverty and isolation paint a dismal picture for girls.
- Programs that target girls and adults in the community, with messages on both SRH and economic empowerment, are showing some successes. There’s more to learn, but results are encouraging.
- Models that incorporate peer education and work with girls on SRH and economic empowerment show positive results: the Tesfa program led by the International Center for Research on Women, the Siyakha Nentsha program in South Africa led by Population Council, and a program by Restless Development in Northern Uganda all included a peer education component.
- Reducing social isolation seems key for increasing both SRH and economic outcomes for girls. Girls need access to other girls for many reasons, but importantly, to give them an outlet to talk about themselves: their ideas, dreams and goals.
- It’s important to work with the adults, not just the girls. Teachers, parents and faith leaders all play roles in girls’ lives, and we need to get them on board with difficult topics. Sex and money are not easy to discuss with young people, and the adults need to build their skills to do it.
Today’s session initiated some vital discussion about next steps. It’s my hope that the two worlds of SRH and economic empowerment for young people will start to cross more often and begin to operate more closely together. This year’s conference is an encouraging step toward that. Look for more information on this topic, including a research brief and e-forum, by visiting the Interagency Youth Working Group website.