Lobby groups push for youth sexual and reproductive health rights ahead of Civil Society Summit

Right Here Right Now II Coalition Members at the United Nations Office in Nairobi during the United Nations Civil Society Conference.[Photo, courtesy]

A group of Civil Society Organizations(CSO) have called on the United Nations and Heads of State to protect and respect the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people by including it in the Pact of the Future and multilateral declarations.

The organizations led by the Network for Adolescents and Youth of Africa(NAYA) and 40 other  CSOs convened a forum in Nairobi together with the youth to table their demands on adolescents' reproductive health issues.

NAYA Head of Programmes intervening at the United Nations conference.[Photo, Courtesy]

Their meeting was convened following a UN Civil Society Conference held in Nairobi last week that gave opportunity to relevant organizations to put a global perspective on specific issues of concern.

They have particularly called on the UN and Member states to recommit to full implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action.

Specifically, the Programme for Action adopted in 1994 at Cairo called for all people to have access to comprehensive reproductive health care including voluntary family planning, safe pregnancy and childbirth services, and prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.

The organizations also want the young people’s meaningful and inclusive participation in such civil society conferences to be strengthened.

They further want the UN and the member states to strengthen access to evidence-based, comprehensive sexuality education to enable young people to make informed choices on their sexuality.

The CSOs call for alignment and acknowledgment of the pact of the future to existing treaties that align with the African continent, for instance, the Maputo protocol.

Highlight action and pathways towards the realization and adaptation of the UN binding treaty on business and human rights ensuring a more sustainable future for young people in Africa,” they noted.

The organizations noted that despite progress in realizing sexual reproductive health and rights through various frameworks, adolescents and young people are still disproportionately affected by reproductive health challenges like the high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortions, maternal morbidity and mortalities, sexual and gender-based violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation and more that are caused by inadequate youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services.

At the closing session of the conference in Nairobi, Secretary-General António Guterres and President William Ruto lauded the civil society for their indispensable contributions to countries of operations.

Guterres said that he had witnessed the enormous impact of civil society in every corner of the world; easing suffering, pushing for peace and justice, standing for truth, and advancing gender equality and sustainable development, with many working at great personal risk.

“We need you to use your networks, knowledge, and contacts to implement solutions, and to persuade governments to act. Your contributions have been indispensable, and I thank you,” Guterres said.

He further invited civil society to lift their spirit to the “Action Day” that is to be held in connection the awaited UN summit on the future.

Addressing the delegates at the conference President Ruto showed commitment in recognition of the civil society sector within and outside the country.

“Civil society has a role to play in the development of our country. We may not necessarily always agree but that is the beauty of having a diverse opinion,” said Ruto.

He said the operationalization of the Public Benefits Organisation Act demonstrates the government’s commitment to forging a strong partnership with civil society.

“We have made it possible for Public Benefit Organizations from outside Kenya not to be taken through unnecessary vigorous processes before they begin their operations in Kenya,” he added.

The conference took place ahead of the major summit that is anticipated to be held at UN headquarters, in New York in September 2024.

Heads of state and relevant organizations are expected to work towards the Pact of the Future, an outcome document that will be used to determine the future of the world.