Young leaders around the world are rightfully demanding: “Nothing for us without us.”
They are not only asking to be engaged in family planning policymaking and programming —they are asking to be engaged in a meaningful way.
They are challenging organizations like ours to “walk the talk” of meaningful youth engagement.
As we approach the fifth International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP), in Kigali, it is time to reflect on how meaningful youth engagement in family planning has progressed with each ICFP, and how we, as a global family planning community, can more fully engage young people going forward.
ICFP: An evolution for youth
The 2009 ICFP in Kampala gave little attention to youth.
It was not until the 2011 ICFP in Dakar that a focus on youth began to emerge with a series of activities for youth organized by the Interagency Youth Working Group. While post-conference feedback acknowledged the value of these activities, it also pointed to missed opportunities, most notably that youth activities were held separate from the main conference and minimal effort was made to fully engage youth leaders.
For the 2013 ICFP in Addis Ababa, youth leaders could apply to be sponsored, and participating organizations were encouraged to support youth as part of their delegations. A two-day pre-conference workshop prepared young people for their participation in the conference. Some young people were nominated to co-chair sessions. At the end of the pre-conference workshop, youth participants launched the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning (IYAFP).
In 2013, every session on youth was over-subscribed, with participants sitting on the floor and listening from hallways. The enthusiastic, poised, and articulate participation of youth leaders from around the world led Oying Ramon of the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health to observe that ICFP was becoming a conference for youth.
The 2016 conference in Bali was once again an opportunity for young people to lead. At the opening plenary, youth leader, Margaret Bolaji, gave an impassioned speech, noting the unprecedented participation of young people in ICFP 2016.
“Never before have so many young people from around the world gathered together to discuss family planning,” she observed.
IYAFP and its members were highly visible, especially on social media. The closing ceremony, coordinated by the talented William Otuck, was filled with music and dance, bringing attention to the talents and leadership of young people.
Youth to Energize Kigali
We now approach Kigali knowing that meaningful youth engagement is critical to global efforts to increase access to and use of contraception. The 2018 conference is expecting that out of the 3,500 anticipated participants, more than 550 will be youth delegates. IYAFP has identified outstanding youth leaders for sponsorship—and enthusiasm for participation in the conference is tangible.
IYAFP has planned a formidable youth pre-conference and youth plenary, ensuring youth visibility across all aspects of the conference for Kigali.
Jillian Gedeon and Kate Baye of IYAFP note that, in a very short time, youth have gone from something of an afterthought to being recognized as central to the achievement of national and global family planning commitments. Young people’s passion for contributing to these important commitments energizes the global family planning movement.
Jillian and Kate acknowledge that IYAFP’s ability to mobilize a global network of young leaders has been, in part, due to investments from donors and organizations, including Pathfinder International. We have been building the leadership skills of IYAFP youth leaders to prepare young people to meaningfully engage in setting priorities and making decisions that will affect their futures.
ICFP Youth Lounge and Consensus Statement
Pathfinder is by the side of young people every step of the way. We will be hosting a full schedule of activities for young conference participants in the ICFP 2018 #ByHerSide-themed youth lounge.
Notably, FP2020’s “meaningful youth engagement consensus statement” will be launched at the youth lounge during a ribbon-cutting ceremony November 12. The statement serves as a pledge for policymakers, technical experts, and service providers to commit to the meaningful engagement of young people in the prioritization, development, and delivery of reproductive health and family planning services.
Are you ready, ICFP 2018? Youth are lit!