On 10th June 2020, Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum held a one-day capacity building training meeting for the mapped youth-led organizations at the Mbale DHO office on SMART advocacy and effective coordination. The members of the network were mapped in early 2020 and membership of the network comprises major youth-led organizations from across the 3 districts.

The capacity building meeting was attended by 25 participants (14 F, 11 M) who were representatives from the mapped youth-led organizations from Mbale, Tororo, and Butaleja. Some of the mapped organizations included UWONET, streetways Uganda, Mariestopes, RHU bale, Women with a mission among others. The coordination meeting created a safe space for the youth organizations that have joined the youth network to learn from each other and have a more unified front towards advocating for comprehensive SRHRs in Uganda. The training aimed at strengthening evidence-based SMART advocacy and coordination capacity of the youth network to meaningfully advocate for policy shifts in Adolescents Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.

The meeting was graced by the presence of health care service providers and key district officers like Dr. Jonathan Wangisi the District Health Officer for Mbale District, Sr. Anasho Enwaku a midwife and nurse and the GBV Focal Person for Mbale District, Sr. Abigail Scovia Apio also a midwife nurse and the Adolescent Health Focal Person for Mbale, Sr. Isale Oliver a nurse from Marie stopes Uganda Mbale clinic and Dr. Ayeko Jackson the In-charge Reproductive Health Uganda at Mbale Clinic.

Young people in the eastern region are especially vulnerable to multiple sexual and reproductive health challenges that deter them from realizing their full potential. Among these are; limited access to sexual reproductive health services and information in addition to other social, cultural, and economic obstacles that impede and compromise their quality of life, equity, and dignity. Despite positive advances as per the health implementing partners and line ministries, sexual and reproductive ill-health remains one of the greatest challenges facing young people in Uganda and being escalated more during the COVID lockdown.

The majority of these challenges are a result of none supportive policy and legal environment that promotes adolescent and young people’s Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, gender equality, and meaningful youth participation. In recent years a couple of policies such as the National School Health Policy, Adolescent health policy among others have been drafted and shared on the floor of parliament and citizens consulted about these policies. Although various SRHR advocates have shared with the relevant stakeholders about the urgency of having them passed this hasn’t been the case.

To enhance meaningful participation and promote evidence-based advocacy for improved adolescent sexual reproductive health and rights policies and programs the organization leads were trained in SMART advocacy, effective coordination as well as improving communication and documentation. During the training, the young people expressed the need for effective coordination and evidence-based joint advocacy to address the rising SRHR challenges faced by the young people in the region that range from; teenage pregnancies, sexual violence, maternal mortality & mobility, child marriages, HIV infections, lack of information, stigma, and discrimination among others.

The newly formed joint Youth Network on Adolescent and Youth SRHR will pursue youth advocacy and coordination for increased demand, access, and uptake of essential and quality youth-friendly SRHR services in the three districts.

Particularly the network members agreed to among other things focus attention on; Contraception, maternal and child health, post-abortion care support,  HIV, elimination of sexual and gender-based violence, and other harmful practices like child marriages. One of the key functions of the network will be to mobilize and amplify voices of young people and influence program decisions nay the district level and ensure that districts Committee to delivering quality adolescents SRHR services.

Additionally, the network will work towards advancing the rights of women and girls including advocating for girl child education, menstruation among other issues

Members of the newly formed youth network during a group discussion