Why Invest in West and Central African Adolescents and Youth?

Across Francophone West and Central Africa (FWCA), young people too often face socio-cultural obstacles to accessing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, where and how they need. For young people in FWCA to have the adolescent and youth SRH choices they want and deserve, we must reimagine how we strengthen the market to reach and serve our youngest consumers, on their own terms.

We invited leaders from across the reproductive health field— donors, implementers and young people themselves—to share their perspective on the importance of investing in FWCA adolescents and youth, and what each visionary is doing to change the landscape for the next generation.

As they share: it’s time to combine our energy and voices to serve the FWCA adolescents and youth who need it the most.

Janet Holt, Program Officer, Global Development and Population Program, Hewlett Foundation

“FWCA’s youth are ready to take the lead in determining their futures. Comprehensive SRH information and services are a critical component to ensuring that is possible. It is the funding community’s role to support innovative SRH programs that put youth at the center from the start. Through our support for the Ouagadougou Partnership (OP) and the nine Francophone West African countries in it, we fund the OP Youth Think Tank, the OP Youth Ambassador program for civil society, several youth advocacy efforts and human-centered design program innovations to better reach young people with services they want and need.”

Aissata Segolene Kodio, Activist and Young Leader, Women Deliver

“I am starting a campaign where young girls like me who usually have to work or get married can access quality education and Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) resources so we can build our own wealth and be able to make our voices heard.”

Jess Jacobs, Philanthropist, Maverick Collective

“The importance of supporting SRH efforts lies squarely in the fact that access to contraception for adolescent girls—as well as their adult counterparts—helps countries catalyze economic growth and community development. This is the same whether you’re in West or Central Africa, the U.S., or any other region around the world. Investing in that access in FWCA, and truly investing in the girls and women themselves, means that each person is supported to build the future she dreams of and to see it through, exactly as she planned.”

Hope Neighbor, Partner Camber Collective

“Girls in FWCA pay an especially high price for lack of choice. West and Central Africa has one of the largest youth populations in the world—77 million 15 to 24-year-olds live in the region. Girls have limited choice due to a combination of systemic factors, social norms and challenged service delivery. And girls pay the highest price in the world for their lack of choice, with a maternal mortality ratio of three times the world average.”

Kristely Bastien, Youth Technical Advisor, PSI Côte d’Ivoire

“If we are going to invest in youth, we need to be in it for the long haul and we need to be consistent. A youth focused meeting? Great. Youth on staff? Great. Inviting youth to work on program design, implementation and monitoring? Great. But not enough. Let’s ask: How frequently are we doing this? And are we being consistent?”

Nicolette Van Duursen, Francophone Africa Director, Ipas

“There are more than 1.8 million unsafe abortions in West Africa each year. Unsafe abortion is the most neglected and easily addressable health crisis for young people. Ipas Francophone Africa uses user-centered design to not only understand what women and young girls want out of self-use interventions, but to also support community health workers and providers in providing high-quality safe abortion services to young women. Through Ipas’ Values Clarification and Attitude Transformation interventions, we work toward ensuring that every young women and girl is able to access comprehensive abortion and contractive care without fear or stigma.”

Nicole Cheetham, Director International Youth Health and Rights Division, Advocates for Youth

“In FWCA, adolescents experience some of the highest levels of child marriage, adolescent pregnancy and maternal mortality in the world—yet resources to support their vulnerabilities fall short. It’s time to invest in youth leadership, strengthen and expand promising and effective models and support innovation to advance SRH and rights.”

Nomi Fuchs-Montgomery, Deputy Director for Family Planning, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

“By listening to what matters most to young people, we can test holistic models that include expanding method choice, addressing provider bias and supporting gender transformative interventions. Based on insights, we are building evidence to scale in the region so the connection between their reproductive health and personal ambitions go hand in hand.”

Join these women and others at the side event, “Youth-Powered Investments in West and Central Africa” as they discuss what it means to invest in the future of adolescents in FWCA on Monday, June 3 from 12:00-2:00pm in the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel’s Princess Louisa Room.

This article appears in PSI’s Impact magazine, released in tandem with Women Deliver 2019, as part of an ongoing conversation about putting #PowerInHerHands.

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