For young people, the complicated issues surrounding sexuality and reproductive health present a world of challenges. There are more young people alive now than ever before in history — more than 1.2
billion people between 10 and 19 years old — and many of them are very poor, out of school, and vulnerable. Many become sexually active during adolescence, but often social norms, cultural taboos, and ineffective or inaccessible education and health care systems are barriers that can prevent them from accessing the information and services they need in order to embark on safe and healthy adult lives.

The stakes could not be higher. When young people don't have access to information about their sexuality, or to condoms and other contraceptive methods, the impact is intensely personal — an unwanted pregnancy, infection with HIV or another sexually-transmitted infection, or injury in a violent Photo credit: Joey O'Loughlinrelationship — but is catastrophic also for communities and for countries. Nearly half of all adult HIV infections now occur among young people aged 15 to 24. Pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of mortality for 15-19 year old girls in developing countries.

In many countries, youth-friendly laws and policies aim to ensure that young people have access to high quality, comprehensive information and services and to encourage youth participation in policy and program development. FCI works to build the capacity of our national and community-based youth-serving partners to make sure that these promises are kept, that young people have a seat at the table, and that  young voices are heard — so that all young people are empowered to control their sexuality; protect themselves from infection, unwanted pregnancy, and sexual violence; decide whether and when to have children; and become independent, productive contributors to their communities and nations.

Providing essential information on sexuality and health

Research has shown that young people who are educated about their sexuality tend to delay sexual activity, avoid risky sexual practices, use condoms and other contraceptives, and have sex less often and with fewer sexual partners. Since the 1990s, FCI has been developing educational materials for adolescents — first in English-speaking Africa, and later for young people in other parts of Africa, in Latin America, and in the Caribbean. Our youth-focused education and advocacy materials have been adapted to local contexts and translated into French, Spanish, Dutch, Haitian Creole, Swahili, and a range of other African languages. We have trained local partners to adapt and use these resources in more than 30 countries, reaching tens of thousands of young people around the world. They have brought new evidence-based, participatory, rights-focused ways of communicating about sexuality to health care workers, educators, youth leaders, parents, and young people themselves.

FCI also develops and implements programs that use our educational materials to help young people learn (and teach each other) about sexuality and reproductive health. In Mali, where a majority of the population is under 25 years old and 40% of young women become teen mothers, FCI is reaching out to young workers — who don’t benefit from school-based programs — with information on reproductive health, contraception, and HIV prevention. In partnership with national health, youth, and education ministries and with local NGOs, and through a joint program with the InterArts Foundation, we train young people as peer educators, who then raise the awareness of apprentices, laborers, street vendors, sex workers, and domestic workers on HIV and sexual and reproductive health issues. Through these programs, FCI has reached more than 22,000 young people with crucial information.

Empowering young advocates

Through FCI's youth work in many countries, we have found that young people and the agencies that serve them are often unaware of government policies and commitments related to young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. To address this gap, FCI works to provide young people and youth-serving organizations with the information and skills they need to hold governments accountable, producing toolkits, guides, and training curricula in a range of languages.

Working to prevent and treat obstetric fistula

Obstetric fistula, a devastating injury that results from obstructed or prolonged labor and often leads to a lifetime of illness and social ostracism, can happen to any woman who doesn't have access to skilled childbirth care. But it is a particularly common complication of adolescent pregnancy, because a young woman's pelvis may not be fully developed. FCI work on obstetric fistula includes:

  • Producing and sharing the recommendations from Living Testimony: Obstetric Fistula and Inequities in Maternal Health, which sheds light on the personal and social impact of fistula, provides tools to empower local advocates, and highlights promising practices for preventing and treating fistula and helping survivors reintegrate in society
  • Conducting community-based advocacy on the harmful impact of child marriage on the health and future livelihood of young girls
  • Working globally and locally to promote skilled maternity care, both through our advocacy and through on-the-ground programs including the Skilled Care Initiative
  • helping rural villagers arrange transportation so that women in prolonged labor can get to the lifesaving care they need
  • providing hundreds of women with fistula repair surgery, and with support for reintegration into their communities

Strengthening policies and programs

FCI has worked at the United Nations and other global and regional forums to advance recognition of and protection for adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health and rights, preserve language supportive of the ICPD Programme of Action, and oppose policies that limit young people's access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. At the country level, FCI works with local partners to increase awareness and promote the implementation of supportive national youth laws and policies. And our strategies for helping health care workers and facilities to be more “youth friendly” in providing young people with information and supplies to prevent pregnancy and infection have been adopted by youth-serving partners in a range of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in East and West Africa.

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FCI's youth-focused materials include:

You, Your Life, Your Dreams helps young people make informed decisions about their sexual lives. Designed for young people and for educators who work with them, it provides accessible, objective, and urgently-needed information on a broad range of sexual and reproductive health issues, and is available in several languages and many different versions, reflecting the regional contexts and the unique challenges facing adolescents in East and West Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Get the Facts is used in one-on-one or group discussions about sexuality, peer pressure, and healthy relationships. A flipchart, it can be used in low-resource settings, and has been distributed in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and French in many Latin American and African countries.

Promouvoir la communication entre les parents et les enfants, les adolescents et les jeunes en matiere de sante sexuelle et reproductive (Promoting Communication between Parents and Children, Adolescents and Youth on Sexual and Reproductive Health) will be published in summer 2011 for use in French-speaking West Africa, and will be translated into Arabic and Bamanankan.

Stepping Out is a set of six short videos, 10 to 15 minutes in length, that generate awareness and stimulate discussion about sexuality and reproductive health. Available in English and Swahili, and with a detailed discussion guide, it helps young people develop confidence and improve their communication and negotiation skills so they can make responsible, healthy choices about sexual behavior.

FCI's advocacy and policy materials on young people's health and rights include:

Mobilising Communities on Young People’s Health and Rights: An Advocacy Toolkit for Programme Managers and An Advocacy Training Guide: These tools lay out the steps for grassroots community-level groups in Africa to design and launch advocacy strategies to ensure that government commitments are translated into concrete programs and services.

Género, generaciones y derechos: nuevos enfoques de trabajo con jóvenes (Gender, Generations, and Rights: New Perspectives on Working with Youth): This Spanish-language toolkit helps programs foster youth rights and autonomy and develop strategies for reaching young people.

Guía metodológica para la evaluación participativa de necesidades en salud sexual y reproductiva (Methodological Guide for Participatory Needs Assessment): This manual guides organizations in the planning, monitoring and evaluation of their youth programs, and has been used extensively by youth-serving partners in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Los Objetivos de Desarrollo del Milenio y la salud sexual y reproductiva: Perspectiva desde la gente joven de Latinoamérica y el Caribe [The Millennium Development Goals and Sexual and Reproductive Health: The Perspective of Latin America and Caribbean Youth]: This advocacy publication, developed in collaboration with the Youth Coalition, highlights the key role of young people’s sexual and reproductive health in Latin American and Caribbean countries' efforts to achieve the MDGs.

Manual para fortalecer la capacidad de incidencia política de los y las jóvenes en América Latina y el Caribe (Manual to strengthen young people's political advocacy capacity in Latin America and the Caribbean):  This advocacy curriculum, developed in the Dominican Republic and pre-tested with youth networks in Argentina and Peru, is designed to foster the involvement of young people in public policy discussions and strengthen their demands for rights-based sexual and reproductive health laws at the local level.

More youth-focused materials can be found here.



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