Giving Youth a Voice: Whose Responsibility is it?

May 2, 2018

“We are pleased to inform you that your abstract was accepted as a Comms Talk Presentation for the 2018 International Social and Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) Summit.”

These words will forever ring in my head. I had to reread that statement five times to believe it. See, it was my first time to ever submit an abstract to an international conference. First time! You can imagine my excitement when I received the good news to present at the Summit in April 2018 at Nusa Dua, Indonesia.

I soon had to get over the euphoria real quick and get down to business. This was not an easy task, I was among the less than 30 percent of applicants worldwide in that category whose submission was accepted. I had to show that I was more than up to the task.

My talk was based on the APHRC-Guttmacher Institute study on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in Kenya. As part of the dissemination of findings in April 2017, we engaged 100 young people, aged 14-18 years, across the country. They were part of group discussions as well as a studio audience for Nairobi’s first ever call-in radio talk show on sexuality education. We wanted to hear from the young people themselves about where they get their information on sexual and reproductive health. Kenya is still somewhat conservative, especially on sexual issues, so it was surprising and fascinating to hear how much they knew about sex and their understanding of contraception.

The 2017 Youth Summit attracted teens from across Kenya

The big idea around this Youth Summit and radio show was to give the teens a voice. This is a group that is rarely engaged by decision makers even when these decisions are focused on young people’s welfare. It is rare to see a young person at a policy meeting or global conference giving their thoughts or opinions on an issue.

Fast forward to the SBCC Summit and this same issue was raised – the inadequate participation of young people. There was a ‘Youth Space’ at the summit but even here young people under 25 were still under-represented. My Comms Talk presentation, ‘We know what we want: young teens speak out on comprehensive sexuality education,’ set the stage on April 19, 2018 for a youth panel on voice and agenda setting. I called on participants to engage young people in their programs from the very beginning so as to ensure their needs are adequately addressed. The youth panel focused on seeing young people as experts and not study subjects to achieve sustainable behaviour change.

Giving my presentation at the SBCC Summit

“It’s not just about thinking about young people, but carrying them along in the process,” said Adetoyeke Adedipe, with the Nigeria Urban Reproductive Health Initiative. “We have a saying in Nigeria: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

We need to apply the same thinking in research. As we generate data on young people, we should go back to them with the findings and actively listen to what they have to say. We need to advocate for their participation in high-level policy meetings so that they can actively contribute to policy development.

So who is responsible for youth inclusion in development? Everyone! Whether in civil society, academia or government, we all need to ensure the voice of the youth is amplified in decision making by giving them the opportunity to speak on their issues themselves.

“All of us here, we wouldn’t be here without adult mentors in our life,” Angga Dwi Martha, a youth advisor for Sustainable Development Goals Implementation in Indonesia said. “Leaders in the field need to foster the potential of the young people they meet and next time they will be on the stage with us.”

At the end of the week-long summit, it wasn’t about me or APHRC, or how well we do our work. It was about telling the stories of young people and giving them a platform to be heard. Once they understand their role and the decision making process, they are able to develop confidence in themselves and speak out on societal issues which affect them. Their participation and inclusion will lead to development of youth-sensitive policy for sustainable behaviour change.


 For more information on APHRC’s research on CSE, click on the following links: