In the past ten years, I have worked on young people's access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning. I helped strengthen youth-friendly services in South Asia and trained service providers on sexual health and pleasure based approaches to young people's sexuality and family planning needs. I also helped service providers understand the concept of evolving capacities to ensure that young people of all ages and marital status received contraception. Currently, I'm coordinating an assessment of youth-friendly services in East & Southern Africa for IPPF & UNFPA. I continue to train & advocate on sexual rights, gender, and sex-positive approaches to SRH.
While working for IPPF, I helped a colleague do research on women's fertility & I realised that thanks to government family planning policies, most young women in India have had their children & then tubectomies by the time they are 25. I was 25 at the time. I was angered by the lack of choice young women had and the callous attitude of policy makers and health providers alike. This, compounded by gender norms, meant young women had pretty much zero agency over their own bodies.
One of the biggest challenges has been to overcome service providers' and sex educators' barriers around young people's sexual agency. They immediately want to counsel young clients against having sex if they come seeking contraception. I constantly use interactive exercises, frank discussions, and involve young people in my trainings to drive home the reality. Building young people's leadership on family planning & sexual rights is another strategy.
In India, choice remains a constant struggle as do client rights. Almost half of girls and young women being married before age 18, and expectations of fertility, combined with population policies that are not rights-based, means that girls and young women still lack control over their fertility. We need to involve young people, especially girls, in SRHR programming to ensure that their realities are heard and addressed. Sexual rights must be brought to the forefront of policy making.
With such a strong focus on family planning in recent years and several international commitments, we need to remind ourselves not to fall into the trap of numbers and incentives. Sex comes before reproduction, but the family planning world often forgets that. I want to continue helping practitioners use a sexual rights and pleasure based lens to enhance access, expand choices, and transform gender norms for all.