Youth Advocate Urges Canadians to Help #ChangetheBirthStory

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Austin smiles

Austin is a Youth Advisory Council member and involved in many Plan International Canada youth initiatives. He is passionate about girls’ rights and believes that change is possible by amplifying the voices of youth.

When I was born, my mom had a challenging delivery but thanks to our health system, both my mom and I were able to prevent any long-term complications. My birth story was exciting, safe, and common according to Canadian standards.

But not all birth stories are as joyful as mine. Globally, one woman dies every two minutes due to preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. This week, I attended the Canadian Society for International Health Conference with six other Plan International Canada youth advocates who are working to #ChangeTheBirthStory. It highlighted the important role that we have, as Canadians, in recognizing that there are numerous steps that must be taken in the ambitious agenda of achieving SDG 3.

Mavis, Ghana. Her story in an inspiring example of how our programs help teens overcome barriers to reaching her full potential.

See also: Removing the barriers to healthcare for pregnant teens in rural Ghana

Here are ten take-aways that we can embrace as we strive to accomplish the 2030 agenda on health:

  1. Health is complicated. Because of this, strengthening health systems is even more difficult. Globally, we must recognize that we need to improve entire health systems rather than just treating the symptoms. We must combat existing inequities by addressing the root causes of health-related epidemics.
  2. Health is recognized as a human right but too many people are unable to exercise this right and lack access to quality healthcare.
  3. Behind every health statistic is a person. Each of these individuals have their own birth stories, their own life paths, and their own families. Humanitarians and activists must continue to emphasize the human experience in our work and advocacy.
  4. Within an inequitable health system, marginalized groups suffer even more. During the opening plenary session of the conference, I had the pleasure of hearing Shakira Choonara She spoke of her visually impaired father and revealed how inaccessible labels and precautions on his medications were for him. And that additional measures must be taken to ensure that he is safely taking his prescribed medications.

From left to right: Shakira (speaker with youth advocates), Taylor, Durdana, Diviya and Austin. Shakira spoke with the youth advocates about her work around the world, the importance of speaking up as young people, and the abilities we have despite our age.

  1. Access to healthcare is not just a subject for doctors. At this conference, there were students, economists, nurses, academics, researchers, developers, and more. We all must work together and recognize our role in improving the current systems.
  2. Health is intersectional and must be approached accordingly. One’s identity and even geographical location can impact their access to adequate health care services. People living in rural communities lack adequate transport and this disproportionately impacts women’s health. Each human experience reveals a different barrier and reality of accessibility and exemplifies why we must target all components of health systems to create change.
  3. The CEO of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation mentioned “business unusual” as a way to approach improving health systems. We must change the narrative and change the way we approach improving global health systems to ensure we are reaching the hardest to reach and the most commonly omitted.

    Group of people standing in front of door at Parliament Hill

    Youth advocates with Alaina Lockhart and Celina Caesar-Chevannes, Member of Parliament and Parliamentary Secretaries to the Minister of Small Business and Tourism and International Development in the House of Commons

  4. An important saying to live by in any work, especially related to health, is “nothing about us without us.” As global activists, we must consider the personal experiences while creating authentic partnerships, and ensure we are working together rather than for certain demographics around the world.
  5. Men and boys: I call on you to join me in changing the discourse around what it means to “be a man.” Join me in sharing our space and recognizing our privilege to realize that globally, challenges in health systems are often increased due to gender roles and negative notions of masculinity. I spoke on a panel at the CanWaCH Conference in May on the role of positive masculinities to achieve gender equality, and between Plan International Canada’s effort to include men and boys, and this conference, this important theme was reinforced in the context of health.
  6. Last but not least and debatably the most important of these points is to raise our voice and get heard. At this conference, there was an abundance of young scholars, advocates, and change-makers. It reassured me that we are being listened to, and that many are open to including our perspective in these dialogues. Regardless of age or your positon, ensure that you are aware of everyone’s ability to champion the SDG agenda.

Together, we CAN make progress on the agenda of global health! I urge you to join me in helping #ChangetheBirthStory by signing your name below.

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.

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