Why empowering adolescent girls to exercise their rights to healthcare can help save lives

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When an adolescent girl becomes pregnant in an impoverished rural community, she will likely face many challenges that threaten her wellbeing, and even her life.

In fact, adolescent girls are more likely than older women to die due to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth – 70,000 will die this year alone, making pregnancy and childbirth the leading cause of death for adolescent girls worldwide.

Not only is pregnancy and child birth deadly, it can also put an end to a girl’s right to stay in school, pursue gainful employment and realize her full potential – which in turn contributes to continuing the cycle of poverty across generations.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Plan International Canada in partnership with the Government of Canada is working to change the birth story for women, children and especially adolescent girls around the world by increasing their access to sexual, reproductive, maternal and newborn health.

A girl’s right to sexual and reproductive health

In developing countries, adolescent girls (aged 10 – 19 years) are the most vulnerable to poverty and discrimination because they often have no voice in matters affecting their lives.

When a girl reaches adolescence, she is at risk of human rights abuses – particularly child early and forced marriage, gender-based violence and a lack of access to safe healthcare.

International human rights standards state that everyone has the right to health – including sexual and reproductive health – without exception. Yet progress has been slow and patchy to address the particular health challenges of adolescent girls.

Often adolescent girls face barriers to accessing healthcare, due to:

  • Lack of awareness about sexual and reproductive health issues, risks and existing health services.
  • Lack of finances and mobility and low decision-making power to access health care
  • Discrimination and judgemental treatment from healthcare workers and a lack of privacy and confidentiality during healthcare visits.
  • Cultural taboos around sexual and reproductive health which discourage them from seeking information that could help negotiate sexual behaviors, prevent pregnancy, and even save their lives.

Meanwhile, research continues to show that investing in the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents can contribute to lower maternal and newborn mortality rates, can prevent intergenerational cycles of poverty, and help nations develop economically and demographically.

So, what can be done to ensure better health outcomes for adolescent girls?

Here at Plan International Canada, we understand that gender inequality is a key factor in determining the well-being of adolescent girls, women and children. In many of the communities where we work, adolescent girls and women often:
a) Do not have the power to make decisions about their health.
b) Are economically dependent on their male family members.
c) Have little support to seek services.
d) Are subjected to many forms of discrimination and human rights abuses.

This is why we’re taking a comprehensive approach towards changing the birth story by ensuring all decision-makers and community stakeholders are actively involved in promoting gender equality. The activities that contribute to this are:

Creating peer to peer support groups
Creating peer to peer support groups

Support savings groups
Support savings groups

Working with communities and governments
Working with communities and governments

Training health workers
Training health workers

When it comes to adolescent girls, our goal is to improve their access to and utilization of sexual and reproductive health information and services so they can have healthier lives.

When adolescent girls know their rights and have access to reproductive health information, including family planning, the risk of unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortions goes down. Furthermore, girls have the opportunity to continue their education, seek out economic opportunities and lift themselves out of poverty as well as positively contribute to the growth of their community and country.

Join us and help change the birth story

Everyone has a meaningful role to play in promoting gender equality and the rights of all adolescent girls, women and children to lead healthy lives free of discrimination.

It is up to each of us to help change the birth story. Endorse this statement today and help us create a brighter, more equal future for all:

I stand with Canada to change the birth story because I believe that every adolescent girl, woman and child has the right to be healthy and to live a life free of discrimination.

Desiree Buitenbos | 5 years ago | « back