Youth at the center

In Zambia, young people work to end unsafe abortion

Nana Zulu is Ipas Zambia’s youth advisor and a longtime advocate for sexual and reproductive rights. At age 26, Nana was hired by Ipas to develop our Zambia youth program.

Most of the time we look at young people as recipients of information and services, but at Ipas Zambia we‘re looking at young people as the center of it all,” Nana says.

When it comes to sexual and reproductive health, young people have unique needs and face unique challenges to accessing care—especially when seeking often-stigmatized services such as contraception or safe abortion. Therefore, young people must be at the center of any effort to improve the quality and accessibility of health services for youth. While many programs seek youth input, few involve youth as equal partners at every stage.

With a majority of its population younger than 24 years old, Zambia is a country passionate about investing in young people as future leaders. That’s why Ipas supports young leaders in finding innovative ways to reduce unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion among youth. Abortion is legal in Zambia, but unsafe abortion remains a major challenge because women lack information on how to access safe services, face abortion-related stigma and encounter various other barriers to care.

29% of Zambian women age 15–19 are already mothers or pregnant
66% of Zambians are age 24 or younger
Across Sub-Saharan Africa adolescents age 10–19 account for 25% of all unsafe abortions

EQUAL PARTNERS

Under Nana’s leadership, Ipas has supported youth who work as equal partners with health-care providers to establish youth-centered sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception and safe abortion.

Nana also led the creation of a network of young leaders and advocates for youth sexual and reproductive health and rights. These young leaders volunteer to counsel their peers at specially designated “youth-friendly corners” within health centers—spaces originally developed by Zambia’s Ministry of Health that Ipas and volunteers have worked to revitalize. Some young leaders have even championed youth sexual and reproductive rights in meetings with policymakers.

“They’re the recipients of the services—who better to tell you how to improve services than young people themselves?” Nana says.

Ipas’s Nana Zulu talks with trained volunteers about why it’s crucial for young people to lead efforts to improve health services for youth.
Former Ipas youth consultant Eddie Njobvu helped train this young volunteer who now serves as a peer counselor at a local clinic.
Volunteers are happy to welcome any young person to this “youth-friendly corner” where confidential counseling is available.

Putting youth at the center means recognizing young people as a diverse group, respecting each individual’s experiences, and supporting all youth as agents for change in their own lives. It also means supporting youth-led and youth-focused community organizations that know how to share health information in ways that make sense to young people. For example, our partner Africa Directions organizes street dramas about the dangers of unsafe abortion, and we support Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia (PPAZ) in training peer educators who share sexual health information on university campuses and can refer youth to contraceptive and safe abortion services.

Students at Makeni College School of Nursing in Lusaka are passionate about educating young people on their legal right to safe abortion.
University students trained as peer educators become go-to resources on campus and can refer youth for contraception and abortion services.
With support from Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia, these young people are sharing information that can empower and save lives.
These performers with Africa Directions just finished dancing and acting in street theater skits that educate the public on safe abortion.
A girls’ club hosted by youth-led group Africa Directions allows for open discussion of sexual and reproductive health topics.

MORE STORIES BY IPAS

See what a “youth-friendly corner” looks like – and learn why it works

Youth-led group uses theater to teach about safe abortion

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