Acquiring to Compeer: Youth, Gender Equality, and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages around the globe, governments are taking unprecedented measures to limit the spread of the virus, ramping up health system responses and announcing movement restrictions affecting millions. But amid these efforts, governments, policymakers and decision makers must not lose sight of the vulnerabilities of young people especially the young girls and women, which have been exacerbated by the crisis.

COVID-19, the coronavirus disease that has rapidly spread around the globe since it was discovered late last year, appears most deadly among elderly populations and people with pre-existing medical conditions. Accurate and complete sex-disaggregated data are still needed to understand whether and how women and men experience infection, complication and death risks differently.

Yet even now, it is clear that youth especially girls and women are facing a variety of risk factors that must urgently be addressed.

The COVID 19 Pandemic arrived in Pakistan in third week of February 2020 and despite efforts at prevention and containment, cases have been identified in increasing numbers across multiple locations in all regions of the country. The emerging picture is one where a large number of COVID 19 infections are likely in the absence of immediate containment measures including social distancing and restricted movement.

According to the report (2019) of UN, in Pakistan we have 68% of our total population under the age of 30. Which shows that young people shouldn’t be neglected in this Pandemic to ensure their good health and well-being, mental health, life skills and to save them from COVID-19. Young people should be engaged in this pandemic to play their vital role in combating this uncertain situation. We all should ensure Meaningful Youth Engagement (MYE). MYE can enhance young people’s confidence, good health and wellbeing and teach them important life skills. In fact, research conducted in many countries revealed that young people who participated as peer educators in an SRH program became more confident, which enabled them to talk in meetings and discuss issues around health with their parents. So, MYE can be very supportive in the current situation to overcome this Pandemic together.

So far, while much remains unknown, some of the SRH impacts of COVID-19 include concerns around access to child care (in the event of ongoing school and work cancellations), increased wait times around accessing sexual and reproductive care as health care systems respond to increasing and new demands, difficulties in accessing SRHR medications including access to contraceptives, mental health, HIV/AIDS treatment, and the increased health risks experienced by youth, vulnerable communities, pregnant and immuno-compromised people.

Furthermore; Governments, health systems, healthcare professionals, communities, institutions, and individuals are working to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Such crises often exacerbate systemic challenges, such as gender inequality, lack of youth friendly health services, lack of opportunities to ensure good health and wellbeing and the lack of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Throughout the COVID-19 response and recovery, We will work to ensure SRHR priorities are not set back by the crisis, and that in fact we continue to make progress for youth’s especially women’s and girls’ health and rights.

Previous public health and humanitarian crises have taught us about the consequences we may see if SRHR services are not protected. During crises, access to contraceptives may be interrupted, resulting in unintended pregnancies. When schools are closed, as is the case in many countries now, pregnancy among adolescents may increase. There is increased incidence of gender-based violence (GBV) in the midst of a crisis and in its wake, and when people are advised or required to stay home, they may not be able to leave an unsafe or violent situation. Meanwhile, resources are pulled away from routine health services. Young people assume a heavier caregiver burden and, in turn, face increased risks to their physical and mental health.

We know from our experience that SRHR are completely and inextricably intertwined with gender equality. We also know that marginalized groups—such as girls, women, and transgender community; adolescents and youth; people with disabilities; economically disadvantaged groups; and rural and other hard-to-reach populations—are particularly vulnerable to discriminatory practices that can prevent them from leading healthy lives. But that can change. We believe that if all people are empowered, given with the proper capacities, equipped with quality knowledge and engaged; and if they live in supportive communities where systems and institutions provide high-quality, gender-equitable sexual and reproductive healthcare; and if policies, laws, and process are supportive; then they will exercise their rights to gender-equitable SRHR services and participate as equal members of society. Therefore, in the current situation, all the Governments should not ignore sexual and reproductive healthcare facilities, information and services for young people.

Strategic plan sets a track for working to advance gender equality both in and through SRHR programming. Advancing gender equality in SRHR means working to transform SRHR services from the inside out, accounting for underlying gender assumptions to corroborate that our services can truly contribute to transforming harmful practices. Advancing gender equality through SRHR programs means ensuring that our programs recognize and address the social and structural inequities that contribute to health disparities and help transform the communities, institutions and systems we serve to be more gender equitable. Our programs aim to support health services that help people claim their own power to strive for their best lives.

  • We must create productive opportunities for young people to ensure their goof health including mental health and wellbeing
  • We must adopt innovative models of care, including telehealth, digital solutions and prevent diversion of resources and staff away from sexual and reproductive health care.
  • We must ensure the good health of vulnerable communities especially the transgender community, disable people and people living with HIV and AIDS.
  • Young people should have clear information about where and how to access available services.
  • When assessing the potential fallout laid out in these scenarios, we must pay special consideration to people who already faced structural and systemic barriersto care before the pandemic
  • We must address the unique needs of vulnerable and marginalized populations, as they are contending with barriers exacerbated by the pandemic.
  • Alongside private-sector actors, we must shore up and strengthen the national and regional supply chains to make sexual and reproductive health medicines and supplies more accessible.
  • We must make contraception available without a prescription, decentralize distribution, and facilitate multi-month dispensing of sexual and reproductive health pharmaceuticals.
  • Government should increase funding and support policies that alleviate pressure on health systems, expand access to sexual and reproductive health nationally, and promote gender equality.

As we strive to advance these efforts in the midst of the COVID-19 response, we call the global health community to stand up. Acquiring to Compeer: Youth, Gender Equality, and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). Together, we must continue to support young people, to ensure gender equality, to promote SRHR and advance the progress made since the ICPD Programme of Action and the Beijing Platform for Action, and improve health and gender equality for all, as the world called for in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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