Youth SRHR activists speak out at the #YouthDecides Reception in Benin | She Decides


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Youth SRHR activists speak out at the #YouthDecides Reception in Benin 

17th June 2024

On the evening before the Global Youth Dialogue in Benin, SheDecides hosted the #YouthDecides high-level reception in partnership with SheDecides Champion The Government of the Kingdom of The Netherlands.

The youth focused networking event was hosted by the Ambassador of the Netherlands to Benin, H.E. Ambassador Joris Jurriëns - a long-standing supporter of SheDecides and advocate for SRHR (sexual and reproductive health and rights).

The event was cleverly timed to happen before the Global Youth Dialogue. Held in the Ambassador's residence's beautiful gardens, the reception provided a special space for young SRHR activists and advocates with progressive views to connect before the two-day UNFPA conference.

In total over 80 people attended the evening event. Guests included representatives from Governments, UN entities, NGOs, youth groups and youth activists.

The event included an open mic segment where different speakers gave brief talks, celebrating young people and how their activism has resulted in progress on SRHR around the world.

H.E. Ambassador Joris Jurriëns opened the remarks, welcoming guests to his home in Cotonou and highlighting the importance of coming together to collectively champion youth SRHR. He said:

“The Government of Netherlands is one of the founders of SheDecides, because we believe that a strong political platform connecting leaders, experts and activists from across the world - is the best way to push forward against the rollback of rights. We know that when we come together and stand up for the same goal, the future will be better.”

He swiftly passed the mic to Méola Yahouedou, a youth activist Benin and an advocate for the Rutgers supported “She Makes Her Safe Choice” programme, which advocates for safe abortion in the country. Meola welcomed guests to Benin and emphasized the country’s SRHR advances, including the recent passing of progressive laws on safe abortion. She said:

“Benin now has a much more favorable legal framework for SRHR - thanks to the joint efforts of young people, civil society players and political will. We remain very optimistic about the issues of access to CSE in and out of school, which is also on the right track. The ICPD+30 Global Youth Dialogue in Benin comes at just the right time and should help to ensure that the SRHR needs of young people are better taken into account, both in Benin and throughout the world.”

Sara Bahgat, Dutch Youth Ambassador SRHR, Gender Equality and Bodily Autonomy was next to speak on this issue of social media and SRHR. She said:

“More and more young people in The Netherlands rely on social media platforms to get their information on contraception. This poses risks when young people are being actively influenced by disinformation. It is crucial that we take it seriously when young people speak out online on the use of hormonal contraception. We must make sure that every young person can make well-informed decisions. To achieve this, we must push for comprehensive sexuality education that leaves no one behind.”

Dr. Bilguissou Balde, from IPAS Francophone Africa was next to take the mic. She spoke about the importance of supporting and uplifting the voices of young change-makers, providing them with the resources and platforms to drive meaningful progress. She said:

“The youth of today are not just the leaders of tomorrow; they are the change-makers of today.”

The mic was then passed to Ela Urquijo, a Colombian activist and youth networker for the International Planned Parenthood Federation - Americas and The Caribbean Regional Office and activist from the Causa Justa movement for the decriminalization of abortion in Colombia. Ela told a personal story about watching her friends drop out of school due to teenage pregnancy and feeling determined to do something about it. She went on to champion the importance of providing resources to youth activism:

“It is not an easy task and that is why we need more people to take the mic but also bring their budget and support us. Because girls JUST WANNA TO HAVE FUNDS!”

Following on, Sijan Gelal, from YUWA Nepal pointed out the critical role CSE plays in empowering young people to make their own choices. She said:

“Every young person deserves access to accurate information about our bodies, relationships, rights, sexuality and everything that lies in between so that we can be our own advocates and make informed decisions for ourselves.”

Special guest Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, UNFPA was last to take the mic. She reflected on her journey with the ICPD, and said:

“I’m very pleased that we are starting the 30th ICPD with young people leading the Global Dialogue. You are going to make the world a better place.”

H.E. Véronique Tognifodé Mewanou, Minister of Social Affairs and Microfinance, Government of Benin closed the speaking segment by reiterating Benin’s commitment to gender equality and young people’s srhr.

“I would like to applaud the young people and all the work being done to promote the SRHR of women and young people. Youth is capable and dynamic; we are proud to have you by our side in this struggle. These are your causes and so your participation is key.”

She went on to speak about Benin’s recent landmark ruling to expand the legal grounds for accessing safe abortion in the country:

“We wanted to reduce the maternal mortality rate. The second cause of maternal mortality in Benin is linked to unsafe, clandestine abortions, so this is why we expanded the law in Benin two years ago in 2022, to legalize safe abortion.”

After the speeches, guests were encouraged to network with each other and connect ahead of the Global Youth Dialogue. Many took the opportunity to talk about their issues at the SheDecides video and photo booth.

The networking event was one of three events hosted by SheDecides at the Global Youth Dialogue in Benin and marked the launch of the SheDecides Youth SRHR campaign “It Starts With Youth SRHR”.

See photos from the event.