To tackle the global education crisis, let’s give young people choice
29 July 2021
This week, the UK Government is co-hosting the Global Education Summit, with a focus on improving girls’ access to education globally.
Yet, with millions of girls forced out of school every year due to unintended teenage pregnancy, current cuts to adolescent reproductive healthcare put these global commitments at risk. That’s why, at MSI Reproductive Choices - a global provider of sexual and reproductive healthcare – we are ensuring that reproductive choice remains on the Summit agenda this week, showing the power of choice in helping #GirlsChooseSchool.
As the Youth Engagement and Advocacy Officer for MSI’s programme in Nigeria, I have seen first-hand the impact that a quality education can have on a young woman’s life. When girls can remain in education, they are better able to pursue a career, create opportunities in their communities and drive positive change in wider society.
Unintended teenage pregnancy continues to rob girls and young women of their education. Globally, an estimated 23 million adolescent girls want access to contraception but don’t yet have it. The UK’s APPG on Population, Development and Reproductive Health reports that one-third of teenage girls who drop out of school do so because of an unintended pregnancy or marriage.
As Blessing, an adolescent client with MSI Nigeria, shared:
“My mother dropped out of school at age 19 and my two aunties did the same. The one thing that was common between them was unplanned pregnancy. My ambition is to finish secondary school, go to university and achieve my dream of becoming a lawyer. But I have to protect myself to see my dream come true.”
By providing young people with reproductive choices, via comprehensive sexuality education and adolescent-friendly healthcare, we can support young people - like Blessing - to better understand their bodies, have safe relationships on their terms, avoid unplanned pregnancy and pursue their futures. Recent analysis shows that by increasing access to reproductive healthcare services for young people, we could support up to four million more girls in sub-Saharan Africa to remain in education, every year.
To begin the Summit, on Monday 26th July, I represented MSI at a Summit side event on how we can support more girls to stay in school with reproductive choice and comprehensive sexuality education, speaking alongside Helen Grant MP, the UK Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Girls’ Education, and partners at Plan International, UNFPA, SheDecides and others.
In recent years, governments have made bold commitments on comprehensive sexuality education, including at the G7, but not all have been delivered.
To support governments in turning commitments into action, Plan International and partners launched a new tool at the event and invited young advocates to share what they believe is needed to progress. As Bhagyashri Dengle, Executive Director of Policy & Practice at Plan International, said: “It is so critical to hear directly from young people and ensure that they are at the decision-making table.”
As I shared in my speech, if we are to tackle the global education crisis, we need to ensure young people have accurate information on their sexual health and are signposted to the adolescent-friendly services they want and need, and that funding for those services is protected and expanded. As Helen Grant MP said at the event,
“When young people know about sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights, they can make informed choices that help them thrive both in and out of school.”
It is possible to drive access to reproductive healthcare and rights for young people at scale. Since launching our adolescent strategy in 2017, MSI has provided over 4.3 million adolescents with reproductive choice, serving over 150,000 young people last month alone. However, with recent drastic cuts to UK aid for reproductive healthcare programmes, including those specifically for young people, both adolescent access to reproductive choice and the UK’s commitments to girls’ education are at risk.
This week, as the world rallies behind our shared belief in girls’ access to education, we cannot forget the vital role that reproductive choice plays in helping #GirlsChooseSchool. Only when young people have access to the reproductive choices they want and need to avoid unintended pregnancy, remain in education, and pursue their futures, can we build a more equal, sustainable world for all.