The voices of Kenyan Youth have been assertive and clear. The Youth are sick of the stigmatisation and constant challenges of exercising their own ASRH rights. A taskforce representing Youth across Kenya outlined the exact needs and expectations in the lead-up to the official launch of the ASRH DIB programme, on Thursday 21st September. Adolescents today face a myriad of challenges when it comes to accessing ASRH services, both from financial aspects to socio-cultural challenges which prevent them from being a voice within their communities. These challenges prevent them from taking ownership of their SRH rights while exacerbating the bridge between adolescents and the elders. The prevalent outcome shared by youth highlighted how this leaves them feeling unsafe in coming out and discussing these topics openly.
The Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Development Impact Bond’s (ASRH DIB) meaningful youth engagement event took place on Monday, September 18th, to bring together adolescent and youth representatives from 10 counties, in advance of the official launch of the programme. The group consisted of 20 adolescents and young people from the 10 counties represented in the programme to meaningfully engage them in the programme implementation and critically, provide them with a stage to have their voices heard.
The UN joint team welcomed the group to the engagement meeting to involve them in the decision-making process and to get key insights into the challenges they face in the ASRH space. As Ummi Said, a youth representative from Mombasa County described, her wish for the day was that ‘young people could be involved in not only the implementation but also the planning, implementation, evaluation, and monitoring - like the full processes of the project.’
The ASRH DIB is an innovative UN joint programme, led by UNFPA, UNAIDS, WHO, SDG Partnership Platform, and UNRCO, in collaboration with the Government of Kenya, global non-profit organisation Triggerise, the Children's Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), and Bridges Outcomes Partnerships This innovative DIB will fund the delivery of high-quality, youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services, including HIV prevention, testing and treatment, to adolescent girls aged 15-19.
The challenge, from a statistical point of view, states that 1 in 6 adolescent girls between 15 and 19 years old either becomes pregnant or is already a mother in Kenya, resulting in over 260,000 pregnancies annually. In 2022, an estimated 7,300 new HIV infections occurred among adolescents and young people aged 15-24, accounting for 41% of all adult new infections in the country. Adolescent girls and young women are particularly vulnerable, accounting for 78% of new HIV infections among adolescent and young people of the same age group (HIV estimates 2023).
The ASRH DIB youth engagement meeting gave a voice to these figures and to the daily struggle that this demographic faces in accessing their SRH rights; the pressures, the judgements, the stigma, and the desire to exercise their own rights. The key figures highlight the extent of the problem in Kenya while the adolescent voices show that the problem permeates their daily lives.
The event provided a safe space for adolescents to voice the challenges they face and influence the design of the programme that will allow them greater access to services and help to open more life opportunities. When asked about the importance of engaging with the youth, Janet Musimbi from the National Syndemic Disease Control Council (NSDCC) stated:
“The youths are at the centre and being able to give their opinions and give what they think might work for them is critical, because different youths are unique in different counties, so how best are you going to reach out to them?”
While Leah Wanaswa, the Country Director of Triggerise stated:
”Whatever the young people need voiced – like issues emanating from the respective counties where they are coming from – we (*Triggerise*) are able to take those into consideration during implementation and ensure that we are able to adapt.”
This value of the meaningful youth representation was shared among all in attendance from the youth themselves to the UN agencies and implementing partners. It was clearly outlined from the beginning that the meaningful youth engagement strategy of the ASRH DIB would ensure that ‘senior people’ are not making decisions on behalf of the youth, but ‘the youth themselves are heard and they are part of the decision-making process.’
Jim, a youth representative from Homa Bay carried hope from the youth engagement day – “And I hope that when I leave from here, I get to go (*to Homa Bay*) and advise the others on how we can help each other. Alright, let's do it!”
The ASRH DIB will address the problem of teenage pregnancy, new HIV infections, and AIDS-related deaths among vulnerable adolescent girls in Kenya, focusing on challenges such as the lack of information about SRH rights and inadequate access to services tailored to young people. The programme will be implemented over the period of 2 years (2023-2025) in ten counties that experience a significant burden of HIV and adolescent pregnancy, including Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Bungoma, Migori, Kisii, Nyamira, Kakamega, and Busia.
With special thanks to our donors – Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Kingdom of Netherlands, Portugal and Spain who funded through the pooled United Nations Joint SDG Fund and made this programme a reality.