Reflections from our Advocates in Practice (AiPs)
In line with our mission to amplify community action and voices, we facilitated community representatives to engage at the Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK) conference alongside TICAH staff in June 2023.
Set in Diani, Kenya, the conference brought together SRHR stakeholders under the theme “Localization of Global SRHR Commitments”. TICAH hosted a side event with a panel featuring a representative from the Ministry of Health, a cultural practitioner and former traditional birth attendant, a pastor and one of our AIPs to discuss how meaningful engagement of cultural and religious leaders can facilitate agency for girls in accessing SRHR services.
We asked our three AiPs, Amani Abubakar, Chris Kuria and Nelson Onyimbi, to reflect on their experiences.
What is your role as an advocate in practice (AiP) with TICAH?
Amani: As a young advocate in the Sexual reproductive health space and participant of the Advocate in Practice Program, my role is to champion sexual reproductive health rights at the community level. I achieve this by utilizing the skills I acquired at the trainings to champion for eradication of inequalities around the SRHR space, the inclusion of minority groups and holding key decision-makers accountable in terms of policy implementation and budgetary allocation to achieve Vision 2030 and the SDGs.
Nelson: As an AiP, I am tasked with furthering the Advocacy in Training practices on behalf of TICAH to my peers and networks in the advocacy space. This includes bearing the organization ideals and progressing the work that we do in health and education. I also represent the organization in forums like conferences and summits to showcase the work that we do in advocacy to be able to onboard new partners to the course.
Chris: As an advocate in Practice with TICAH, I champion for sexual reproductive health & rights through advocacy targeting decision makers to prioritize & adequately fund SRH. With support from TICAH, I also undertake community SRHR sensitization, spearheading the transformation of social norms for the creation of a supportive community environment for adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health & rights through comprehensive sexuality education.
How did you engage at RHNK?
Chris: At the RHNK Conference 2023, I presented a poster abstract on The Role of Youth in Social Accountability for Sexual Reproductive Health & Rights. In my presentation, I shared the significant contribution young people made in realizing positive SRHR outcomes in the Securing Health through Advocacy & People Empowerment (SHAPE) project implementation in Nyandarua County through public participation, one of the tools for social accountability. I also demonstrated the implementation process, which occurs through participation in the county’s budget processes, engagements with county officials from the health and finance departments, and Members of the County Assembly through the health and budget committees. In all these engagements and particularly public participation forums, young people made their SRHR asks through the submission of memoranda. A family planning budget study research conducted for Nyandarua County for the financial years 2017/18, 18/19, 19/20, 20/21 and 2021/22 guided my abstract, as well as the county’s Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) SRHR data over the period under study.
Significant results were achieved as a result of youth involvement in SRHR advocacy through public participation, notably the establishment of two functional youth-friendly centers, the first-time inclusion of an independent budget line for youth-friendly services provision in the financial year 2021/22 and teenage pregnancy reduction from 9.7% (KDHS 2014) to 5% (KDHS 2022) as a result of prioritization of SRHR due to youth social accountability.
My presentation ended by articulating that considering SRHR forms an integral part of the overall health & well-being of youth, it is crucial that development partners, national and subnational governments work together towards eliminating legal, policy and programmatic barriers that impede youth participation in social accountability for their SRHR.
Amani: I presented a poster on the utilization of contraceptives with a key focus on adolescents and youth.
Nelson: As an oral abstract presenter, I shared in one of the sessions on the topic of onboarding new technologies into adolescents and young people's sexual and reproductive health and rights communication strategies due to the age group’s technological versatility and up-to-date nature. This included the need to update the strategies to accommodate new technology and social media to work with chatbots and other conversational artificial intelligence. My abstract research was guided by an existing study on the opportunities that exist in technology for organization communications.
The effectiveness was demonstrated by the efficiency of organizations in maintaining audiences and onboarding newer audiences into their socials using changing technology.
I ended the presentation by paraphrasing Charles Darwin’s quote on evolution and relating it to the topic in the room, that “it is not the strongest or the fastest species that survives, rather the most adaptable to change’
What do you hope people learn from your presentation?
Amani: To achieve 100% utilization of the services, we need SRHR programs to be run by youth. We are the ones who understand our issues, and it is only us that can come up with solutions to our challenges. When youth take control of the programs, we will shun misinformation about contraceptives, and services will be accessible to all.
Nelson: The versatility of digital platforms and the fast advent and replication of artificial intelligence can be harnessed by an organization to update communication strategies to ensure that their reach is maintained and widened/expanded.
I also shed light on where to start as an organization that seeks to employ new technology into their strategies, and eradication of the fear of artificial intelligence as a worrisome invention that is out to render communication specialists jobless. AI, on the good side, is there to augment the work that is already existing.
Chris: Through leveraging social accountability mechanisms, youth and communities at large can play a significant role in holding public officials and service providers accountable to SRHR commitments and ensuring quality service provision with positive SRHR outcomes.
I also emphasized the importance of national & subnational governments and development partners to work towards eliminating legal, policy and programmatic barriers that impede youth participation in social accountability for their Sexual Reproductive Health & Rights.
What was your biggest takeaway from RHNK?
Chris: I have two main takeaways from the conference:
1) Evidence-based SRHR Advocacy: Using evidence to initiate dialogue as a basis of community engagement is key in localizing global SRHR commitments as it brings together all stakeholders on board in addressing SRHR issues affecting communities.
2) Collaborations: Building partnerships and collaborations with diverse actors is vital to ensure the localization of global SRHR commitments works. I made new connections along the mutual lines of work we have in advocacy and met in-person fellow youth SRHR champions who I only interacted with online. Additionally, I met Youth Empowerment Movement Kenya, which I only interacted with in online SRHR engagements. I was able to exchange contact with a few organization representatives and also agreed to find ways to advance SRHR advocacy jointly.
Nelson: Partnerships. I was able to make a few connections along the mutual lines of work that we have in advocacy. Among the few connections included Akili Dada who showed interest in my oral presentation and the work that we do as Advocates in Practice. The resolution was to exchange contacts and to keep in touch to charter working relationships in the near future.
I also learned that being vocal about the issues affecting various groups of citizens through advocacy channels and focal persons is one of the most ideal ways to build evidence and shape interventions in line with the real issues. Finally, from the TICAH side event, it came out strongly that religion, culture, and diversity cannot be overlooked when co-creating solutions to issues in various societies, particularly SRHR issues facing young people.
“Religion, culture, and diversity cannot be overlooked when co-creating solutions to issues in various societies, particularly SRHR issues facing young people.” - Nelson Onyimbi, AiP
Amani: We need to partner more. It is not about competition but collaboration to achieve our objectives. Spaces for youth are available, but with many barriers for us to access, it is imperative to release funding to youth-led organizations. We have the potential to do more because we are already achieving with limited resources.