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The Role of Meaningful Youth Participation in Advocating for Sexual Reproductive Health Rights
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The Role of Meaningful Youth Participation in Advocating for Sexual Reproductive Health Rights

“There are a number of elements that have been shared with us on Meaningful Youth Participation that we might have been overlooking. As representatives of our organisation, we definitely need to do our best to influence management to consider having more people on the board, especially at the management level, and reconsider the current recruitment process. We do not have many young people in organizations, so there is a need to recruit more. We will also look at the policy on compensation of interns.” – Mugumya Richard, M&E Officer NAFOPHANU The National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS Networks in Uganda

Meaningful Youth Participation (MYP) is a crucial component in many youth sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) programs. It has positive effects on empowerment and civic engagement of young people; on adult staff and organisations’ capacity to institutionalise meaningful involvement of  young people,  and provide  youth-sensitive SRHR  interventions, and achieve program objectives.

Over the past 9 years, we have worked to ensure that young people between the ages of 12 to 24 have access to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights information. This has been successful because RAHU’s programming engages young people in addressing the challenges that they face especially when it comes to accessing SRHR.

As a way of ensuring that partners under the Joint Advocacy for Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights in Uganda (JAS) program improve their knowledge on Meaningful Youth Participation {MYP} as well as their capacity to ensure meaningful youth participation in their individual interventions, RAHU, supported by the Embassy of Sweden in Uganda held a 3-day training from 18th to 20th November 2020.

The training engaged sixteen participants from Coalition for Health Promotion and Social Development (HEPS), The National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS Networks in Uganda (NAFOPHANU), Centre for Health Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), Uganda Network of Sex Worker Organisations (UNESO) and Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA).

Key to the training was an understanding of how meaningful youth participation manifests in various organisations and if there are deliberate efforts by organisations to cultivate it in their programming. To this, the partners shared what they do to directly engage with young people,  involve or even plan for them in their programming including hiring them as volunteers and interns, engaging them in focus group discussions among others.

During the training, the facilitator Zaitun Nabagereka broke down why it is important to engage young people by emphasising that it’s only young people who can articulately talk about and elaborate the challenges they face. She further mentioned some of the techniques that can be used to address the said challenges like the use of technology especially since most of them are tech savvy.

Using the analogue of the blooming flower, she broke down elements that support meaningful youth participation like capacity building, policies, financial means and youth friendliness among others.

Organisations that directly engage and work with young people also shared how they are currently doing it. As RAHU, we elaborated how working with peer educators at regional level is a great way of engaging young people.

More to that, representatives from NAFOPHANU and AMwA also highlighted the need to include young people on governance boards or leadership positions so that they are able to influence decisions especially on issues that affect them.

As part of the discussions, participants presented skits and short dramas on some of the elements of MYP to further elaborate on the need for MYP in programming that is meant to create impactful change over the years.

Key to the discussions was the need to elaborate on the types of MYP that is adult – led where adults make the final decisions, youth led without adults  which leaves young people with the power and youth – adult partnerships where the two work hand in hand.

Before the training, many participants did not agree with some elements of MYP including granting young people access to organisation funds and free will to lead on the implementation of various programs. However, by the end of the three-day training, many of them had picked up on some of the shared techniques and were ready to incorporate them in their programming.

“The training  strengthened my understanding on why the participation of young people is crucial in SRHR. The learning of  MYP concepts, core elements coupled with action planning for how to improve our organizations’ policies and practices on MYP is what stood out for me the most”. – Fiona Komusana, Programme Associate Akina Mama wa Afrika

Meaningful youth participation ensures that there is greater insight on and alignment with young people’s needs and realities, allows organisations to move beyond comfort zones and also ensures greater ability and structures to work with young people.

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