The World Needs To Talk About Sex

The World Needs To Talk About Sex

Josaphine* was 13 when she started having unprotected sex.

"I started having sex at the age of 13 with a 15 year old boy. In my community, most households are poor and so many of the girls begin to engage in sex at an early age, sometimes as early as nine years in expectation of financial support."

Around the world, 214 million women and girls like Josaphine have an unmet need for modern contraception. Young people - especially young women and girls - are at greater risk and affected by poor sexual and reproductive health than nearly any other group in society.

Young people can be stopped from accessing contraception by social stigmas and fear of judgement. Harmful traditions and beliefs, such as forced or early marriage compound the problem, while the likelihood of a mother dying in child birth is twice as high if you are a young women or teenager compared to an older woman.

This denies girls and young women the opportunity to take control of their lives and their bodies, and reach their full potential. It means they drop out of school early, are forced into unsafe abortions and add unnecessary risk to childbirth.

Sexual reproductive health field trainees Chola Chorezia, and Prudence Chimanda in Samfya, Zambia. VSO/Adriane Ohanesian

Now we have reached a critical moment. 1.2 billion adolescents around the world are reaching their reproductive years, and yet most of these young men and women don't have access to family planning information and services.

If we miss this opportunity to educate and provide the worlds teenagers with the services that could define their lives, an entire generation could find themselves stuck in the same cycle of poverty as their parents.

On 11 July governments, charities, the UN, businesses and youth advocates will come together at the Family Planning Summit for one purpose - to make sure that all women, everywhere, have access to family planning by 2020.

Empowering young people to take control of their sexual and reproductive health is vital to achieving this goal.

VSO is reaching young people like Josaphine, who lives on a remote fishing islands in north western Zambia, through our youth led TALK project.

VSO volunteers train young island residents to act as peer educators, who share information about family planning and sexual health with other young people in their community. They run youth friendly corners where young people can get age appropriate sexual health advice, and access to free condoms without fear of judgement.

The project engages local leaders - who carry huge influence within these remote communities to champion the breaking down of social stigmas. But involving young people in decisions about their lives, and in sexual and reproductive health services is also key. Too often they are excluded and ignored when it comes to decisions about how services are designed and delivered, and are denied access to information that could potentially save their lives.

Josaphine and her boyfriend attend outreach sessions delivered by TALK volunteers, and are now using family planning to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy and STIs. Josaphine is going to school and she's planning her future. She's still only 18, but she's got her whole life ahead of her.

A VSO ICS volunteer delivers a condom demonstration in Choma, Zambia. ICS/Elina Eriksson

Since 2012, 30 million more women are using contraception. UK Aid alone has supported 7 million of these women, helping them take control of their family planning. We are making real, tangible progress - and the British public, through UK Aid and VSO volunteering, are making a huge contribution to this.

Our UK aid funded International Citizen Service volunteers are reinforcing our TALK project on the Zambian mainland. Zambian and British volunteers, aged 18 to 25, are working side by side to deliver sex education classes at schools and youth groups. They're organising awareness raising days in the local community, and training local volunteers to become sexual health champions.

VSO will be attending the Family Planning Summit as a proud partner supporting the UK's leading role in delivering family planning services to every girl and woman who needs it by 2020.

We will continue to work with young people to make sure their voices are heard. We will continue to push for the complete end of child marriage and other harmful practises - consigning this treatment of girls to history. We will continue to call on and support countries to roll out comprehensive sex education for everyone. Let's get this job done and give 1.2 billion young people the chance to thrive.

*Josaphine's name has been changed


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