Comprehensive Life Skills Education: Youth Transforming Gender Norms
On this International Youth Day, EngenderHealth celebrates the importance of comprehensive life skills education (CLSE) for adolescents and youth to support them in exercising their rights to gender-equitable sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and participating as equal members in society.
One example of our youth focus is in our work in the Afar region of Ethiopia, where EngenderHealth and its partners are committed to putting adolescents and youth at the center of what we do. We meet them where they are with critical SRH information and services. Funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and implemented in collaboration with Amref Health Africa, Triggerise, and Philips Health Africa, the A’Ago project seeks to improve SRH outcomes of young people.
A key project strategy for us has been to listen. We listen to adolescent girls like Samira and Rediet, who, at 13 and 14 years old, have big dreams and aspirations for themselves. We support their learning and growth through comprehensive, age-appropriate sexuality education that tackles a variety of topics, including body changes during puberty, friendships and relationships, emotional ups and downs, harmful traditional practices, and early and unintended pregnancy. We support adolescent girls like Samira and Rediet to help them explore these topics through interactive activities and discussions to reflect on, challenge, and ultimately change harmful gender and other social norms that limit the potential of adolescent girls to become leaders and change agents within their communities.
Engaging adolescent boys in our work is crucial, recognizing that they are partners and supporters of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Adolescent boys in the Afar region like Tesfahun and Henok are becoming advocates for SRHR within their communities by exploring what has traditionally been considered women’s and girls’ issues, like menstruation and female genital cutting (FGC). This exploration process is facilitated by in-school and out-of-school opportunities that provide safe spaces to learn and critically reflect on SRHR topics that are important to them and their communities.
In addition to working directly with adolescents and youth, we engage key stakeholders in the Afar region to create an enabling environment for young people to exercise their SRHR. We know that power dynamics and formalized structures of power can both positively and negatively impact access to SRHR for adolescents. As a result, we engage religious leaders, healthcare providers, teachers, and other community leaders to end harmful traditional practices like FGC and promote full access to a range of SRH information and services.
If we are ever to reach gender equality, as governments around the world set forth as one of the top goals in the Sustainable Development Goals, adolescents and youth must be at the center of SRHR programs and must lead the change and transformation within their communities. This change and transformation can only happen if they are equipped with accurate and age-appropriate information about their SRHR, including information about sexuality, FGC, child marriage, contraception, and safe abortion.
Let’s transform our education systems to include key life skills training and SRHR information so that all adolescents and youth can live up to their full potentials and contribute equally in society. Adolescents and youth can transform inequitable gender norms and advance gender equality both in and through SRHR programming.