Sexual and reproductive health

Engaging with youth for the promotion of peace

12 August 2017 ¦ Today is International Youth Day and the theme for 2017 is “Youth Building Peace”.

Today’s generation of youth (defined by the UN as persons aged 18 through 29) is the largest the world has ever known and as such will have a major role in shaping the world of tomorrow. To this end, youth need to be actively engaged and invited to participate in the design and development of research and programmes that affect them. This was recognised by the UN Security Council in its 2015 resolution urging Member States to increase representation of youth in decision-making at all levels. Whilst the resolution focused primarily on global security, it is equally relevant for health.

The participation and views of youth in the development of health research and programmes are critical to ensure that the evidence we gather and the knowledge we generate properly inform the development of future programmes to ensure that health services are accessible to youth and meet their needs.

This year’s celebration of international youth day recognizes young people’s contributions to conflict prevention and transformation as well as inclusion, social justice, and sustainable peace. To a large extent, how young people perceive gender norms, how they form their own normative beliefs about gender and how these beliefs align with social norms in their communities can play a key role in promoting inclusion, social justice and peace.

Group of adolescents sitting in a circle, discussing

Addressing gender and other social inequalities is crucial for promoting social inclusion and justice. Young people are affected by these inequalities in many ways. For example, harmful gender norms including masculinities influence behaviours such as violence, alcohol misuse, and unsafe sex among others. Therefore addressing these gender norms early and among young people can contribute towards goals of social justice and inclusion.

A partnership between the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the World Health Organization, intervention implementation partners, and research institutions around the world.

The goal of the Global Early Adolescent Study (GEAS) is to understand the factors in early adolescence (10 – 14 years) that contribute to how boys and girls learn about the social – including gender - roles that their families, communities and societies require them to play, and how their perception and adoption of these roles predispose them to subsequent sexual health and social risks and conversely to healthy sexuality and social wellbeing.

Five key findings that emerged from phase 1 of the Study are:

  • Puberty is a critical time in the life-course when pre-existing gender socialization becomes further crystalized
  • Unequal gender norms and attitudes are widespread across geographic and socio-cultural settings, with similarities and differences across contexts
  • Societal expectations of boys and girls differ, and so do their own gender attitudes
  • Race, ethnicity, class and immigrant status influence gender norms and attitudes
  • Peers and parents are key in shaping the gender norms and attitudes of young adolescents

As the Study moves to phase 2, how these inequitable norms develop and how they can be challenged and overcome through interventions that operate at the individual, peer-group, family, community and societal levels will be examined in robust, large scale studies in a number of sites around the world.

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