Amplifying Youth Voices: Youth SRHR Activism Shines at #YouthDecides Reception

“Benin now has a much more favorable legal framework for SRHR – thanks to the joint efforts of young people, civil society players, and political will,” said Méola Yahouedou, a prominent youth activist from Benin, at the #YouthDecides high-level reception. This event, organized by SheDecides and co-hosted by the Government of the Netherlands, was a prelude to the Global Youth Dialogue, highlighting the critical importance of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) for young people worldwide.

Held in the lush gardens of the Dutch Ambassador’s residence in Cotonou, the reception welcomed over 80 attendees, including representatives from governments, UN entities, NGOs, and youth groups. The event provided a unique platform for young SRHR activists to connect, share experiences, and strategize on advancing SRHR globally.

The opening remarks by H.E. Ambassador Joris Jurriëns underscored the Netherlands’ commitment to SRHR, a stance deeply rooted in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being) and SDG 5 (Gender Equality). He highlighted, “The Government of the Netherlands is one of the founders of SheDecides because we believe that a strong political platform connecting leaders, experts, and activists from across the world is the best way to push forward against the rollback of rights.”

The evening featured a series of impactful speeches, beginning with Yahouedou’s celebration of Benin’s progressive SRHR laws, including those on safe abortion. This aligns with SDG 3.7, which aims to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services, including family planning, information, and education.

Sara Bahgat, Dutch Youth Ambassador for SRHR, emphasized the role of social media in shaping young people’s views on contraception. She pointed out the risks posed by disinformation and stressed the need for comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) to enable informed decision-making. Her remarks tied into SDG 4.7, which promotes education for sustainable development and gender equality.

Dr. Bilguissou Balde from IPAS Francophone Africa echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the need to uplift the voices of young changemakers. “The youth of today are not just the leaders of tomorrow; they are the changemakers of today,” she stated. This advocacy for youth empowerment is crucial for achieving SDG 10, which focuses on reducing inequalities.

Ela Urquijo, a Colombian activist, shared a personal story that highlighted the importance of providing resources to support youth activism. She passionately argued for more funding, encapsulated in her rallying cry, “Girls JUST WANNA HAVE FUNDS!” Urquijo’s plea aligns with SDG 5.6, which seeks to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

The event’s final speaker, Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of UNFPA, reflected on the journey of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the importance of youth leadership in SRHR. She praised the start of the 30th ICPD with young people at the forefront, reinforcing the idea that youth engagement is vital for sustainable development.

Benin’s Minister of Social Affairs and Microfinance, H.E. Véronique Tognifodé Mewanou, concluded the speeches by reaffirming the country’s commitment to gender equality and SRHR. She highlighted Benin’s recent legislative advancements in legalizing safe abortion, aimed at reducing maternal mortality rates—a critical aspect of SDG 3.1.

As the evening drew to a close, attendees were encouraged to network and exchange ideas, setting a collaborative tone for the upcoming Global Youth Dialogue. The #YouthDecides reception not only celebrated the achievements of young SRHR activists but also underscored the interconnectedness of SRHR and the SDGs, emphasizing that progress in one area fuels advancements across all facets of sustainable development.

Source: SheDecides
Picture Credit: SheDecides

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