70th World Health Assembly


3rd Annual Global Citizens’ dialogue: adolescents as agents of change

A growing global movement for citizen-led accountability is underway, and this week it took centre stage at the World Health Assembly, as the 3rd Annual Global Citizens’ Dialogue brought adolescents and youth from around the world, together with health ministers and other key stakeholders to talk about best practices in accountability for health, with a focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Moderated by Gogontlejang Phaladi Representative of PMNCH’s Adolescent & Youth Constituency and Ambassador Rosemary McCarney, Canada’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, the dialogue sought to, among other things, showcase best practice in national participatory mechanisms to engage citizens, particularly adolescents, in the planning and delivery of health services; and provide a forum for them to articulate their experiences in social accountability for health and their priorities and challenges with regard to their own health and accessing health services.

A panel of youth representatives shared their experiences—some very personal— of sexual violence and teenage pregnancy, Female Genital Mutilation, judgement and taboo around demand for contraception and abortion and stigma associated with discussing their sexual and reproductive health and rights in society and in some cases, within the home. The youth representatives called for better youth services that were sensitive to young people, especially young women in extraordinary circumstances. They asked for better data, youth-led evidence based research, comprehensive sexual education and the removal of barriers for young people to access services they need. Underlining all of these demands was the need for young people to be at the table and to be involved in accountability structures at every level of decision making. As Maryam Ahmed a youth advocate (since the age of 13), from Nigeria stated, “Youth are the future, but we are also part of today, we have skills, opinions and experiences to offer.”

The dialogue highlighted the need for governments and policy makers to engage with multiple stakeholders, particularly adolescents, in shaping meaningful policies, programmes and services that will improve youth health and wellbeing. Political will and commitment were deemed paramount as government representatives at the table described some of the work done in their countries to elevate and alleviate issues adolescents face. Honourable Jane Ruth Aceng, Uganda, spoke of youth friendly health facilities around her country designed for and led by youth, as well as the creation of a dedicated adolescent department. Dr Adebimpe Adebiyi, Nigeria, described how her country involves youth and has created a space for them in policy implementation planning. Dr Francisco Mbofana, Mozambique, spoke of the recent development of an investment case for youth that drew on the experiences of youth representatives from all over the country.

In her concluding summary, Ambassador Rosemary McCarney declared the meeting a true display of youth expression and engagement as well as political will, and called on stakeholders to transform the talk to action to make the changes real.

The event was sponsored and supported by the Government of Canada and hosted along with the Governments of Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay. Other host organizations included PMNCH, UNAID S and UNFPA together with CSO partners: World Vision, Save the Children and White Ribbon Alliance

What they said:

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