For nearly a decade, I've worked at the intersection of gender, sexuality, global public health, and human rights with a specific focus on youth civil society movements. My work has centered around supporting and equipping youth advocates and activists with the skills and resources they need to demand their rights and promote equality. My goal has been to work across sectors to ensure that young people are not only engaged meaningfully as partners in global health and development, but also that systems, structures, and policies transform to better respect, protect, and fulfill their sexual and reproductive rights, including and especially their access to contraception and family planning.
As a college student, I worked as a counselor at a women's health clinic in a small town in New Hampshire. In addition to providing non-judgmental counseling services to women who were seeking abortion services, I was often the primary source of sex education for the majority of young women I spoke to. These stories encouraged me to become an advocate for young people's access to services and information, and to promote sexual and reproductive rights for adolescents and young people.
There's a great deal of political opposition to young people's full access to SRHR, especially from the conservative religious right. This opposition is well-organized, well-funded, and dangerous (literally), and many young people are at risk if they speak out to demand their rights. Another challenge is the fact that access to contraception does not exist in a vacuum for young people, and they don't live their lives in silos. Therefore, our efforts shouldn't treat their health as such.
Young people in the US lack access to comprehensive sexuality education. Until this year, billions of federal dollars were spent on withholding information about contraception and sexual health from young people. This means that young people across the US don't have the tools and skills to stay healthy and safe. This can be addressed by allocating proper budget and resources to evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education.
The Torchlight Collective, which is a social enterprise launched by leading consultants from youth movements working around the world on issues of human rights, global health, peace and security, and sustainable development, has been established to bolster and continue to drive progress for young people's SRHR. I hope that after 5 years, we have established and support systematic change to support youth civil society movements for SRHR to the point where we are nearly obsolete!