Meaningful, inclusive youth engagement is vital in county processes

Limited youth engagement in the fight against teen pregnancies results in stagnation in efforts to reduce this shadow pandemic.

Empowering Evidence Driven Advocacy came about in 2017 to enlighten the county government through data and research on the plight of Narok youth and gave various recommendations that prioritized their engagement in decision making and development of youth-friendly strategies to cater to the cause.

Adolescence is considered to begin with puberty and end with transitions into marriage, parenthood, employment, financial independence, or some combination thereof.

Commonly, adolescents are defined as young people aged 10-19, and youth are aged 15-24 as defined by the UN but in the Kenyan context, a youth is any person aged 19-35. ‘Vijana’ as referred to in Swahili represents this vibrant population of young people who populate more than 60% of Kenya and a similar statistic for Narok County with the majority of the population being either children, adolescents, or youth under the age of 24.

This, therefore, creates an opportunity for the inclusion of youth in decision-making, planning, and implementation of programs and youth-related policies to cater to the needs of young people.

In the Narok context, the county government of Narok through partners such as the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning has been able to form and adopt a youth technical working group that is meaningfully engaged in various county committees, planning, and implementation of county activities.

A good example is the reproductive health department that is leading various initiatives in the fight against teen pregnancies, FGM, and early marriages in the county. According to KDHS data 2014, Narok county was leading in cases of teen pregnancies in Kenya with 2 out of 5 girls aged 15-19 having been pregnant or had their first child.

The popular youth phrase ‘nothing for us without us’ was realized by the launch of the youth technical working group in 2018 that has since worked collaboratively with the Narok County government to increase contraceptive uptake among young people which has impacted in 4% decline of teen pregnancies in the county as reported in this year’s MOH data as of September 2021.

Meaningful youth engagement empowers young people to take an active role in decision-making affecting their lives and their future. There are different levels of meaningful youth engagement in programs, policies, and organizations.

Narok county government has aimed for a youth-adult partnership in which youth and adults are equally involved and share power in the design, implementation, and monitoring of AYSRH interventions. A great example is the ongoing AYSRH framework to prioritize youth needs in UHC as a primary health care component.

The policy is currently in development with young people leading the process as Narok prepares to adapt its UHC roadmap upon government directives. The UHC model as witnessed through the 5 piloted counties aims to offer quality care in matters of health without causing financial strain on citizens. The AYSRH framework depicts the values of UHC with a keen focus on youth sexual and reproductive health needs at the primary health care level.

The youth-focused framework seeks to:

  • Functionalize youth access to and satisfaction with Reproductive Health services
  • Institutionalize the practice and use of adolescents and youth-friendly health services standards
  • Facilitate delivery of higher-quality Sexual Reproductive Health services to adolescents and youth
  • Structurally invest in the empowerment of health providers to be advocates for adolescent and youth health needs and priorities
  • Enhance health-seeking behavior among youth
  • Entrench youth health priorities in the planning and budgeting cycle for Narok county

It will be a game-changer in meaningful youth engagement in Kenya in general once Narok county adapts the framework into their UHC model which can, in turn, be modeled by other counties and countries.

Working in partnership with the Narok county government as a youth champion has built my capacity and increased my skills as a young person on matters of policy and youth representation. The biggest win for me though has been the reduced bias and the built positive perceptions of young people among adults and policymakers.

Stephen Paan is a Narok-based Youth Champion

  

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