In Pakistan almost 60% of the population is under 29 years but ironically they are completely invisible in our policies and programs. Generating knowledge on the much neglected area of sexual and reproductive health needs of young people and developing a comprehensive package on Youth Friendly SRH Services for Pakistan, in my opinion is my most meaningful contribution in family planning. I led the process of introducing the concept of Youth Friendly SRH services in Rahnuma- FPAP and today there are 17 clinics out of 104 that offer comprehensive youth friendly SRH services adhering to international standards. I led my team to establish a task force that developed a framework on Comprehensive Sexuality Education for Pakistan and are currently advocating for the same at policy level.
As a student of Environment & Development, from the London School of Economics, I acquired knowledge on the strong correlation between Population, Environment & Development. With a background of working with poor and marginalized youth, I got the opportunity to closely observe the adverse effects on their lives due to lack of knowledge on and access to sexual and reproductive health services. High prevalence of Child Marriage was the most painful reality I faced in my country.
Stigma associated with youth seeking FP/SRH information and services is the biggest challenge. Girls as young as 9 years are married and there is strong religious opposition to legally prohibit early age marriages. Lack of mobility and low literacy rate makes it hard to access girls with SRH information and services. Sexuality is a taboo; boys shy off medical centers and often go to quacks. My efforts of bringing attention to young people’s SRH needs, in my opinion, will redress the situation.
In Pakistan, there is a 20% unmet need for FP and CPR is 35% which includes traditional methods. Despite commitments made at FP 2020 and other international fora by the Government of Pakistan, the top leadership resists the ownership of the issue due to perceived religious opposition. This results in poor allocation of resources and lack of accountability of Population Welfare Programs. Strong collective advocacy efforts are required to change the situation and put FP high on the agenda.
I will be advocating, in partnership with like minded organizations, to address youth SRH needs in policies and programs in Pakistan. This will result in inclusion of Youth Friendly SRH services in the health system; Comprehensive Sexuality Education in formal and informal education and increase the uptake of FP/SRH services by young people. This will also increase the level of awareness among youth, reduce their vulnerability to exploitation and disease and increase the average age of marriage.