Women Deliver 2023 – ASHER launch Marie Ba’s Keynote Speech

Dear friends, partners, and colleagues. Thank you for inviting me to speak at this important gathering this evening. It’s been an energizing week so far at Women Deliver–and tonight is no exception. I’d like to invite you to look to your right and to your left. You are surrounded by leaders working to protect young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world. Every one of you plays an important role in this multifaceted work, whether that is advocating to prevent child marriage, supporting girls’ education, or improving access to family planning–like me and my team at the Ouagadougou Partnership.

The Ouagadougou Partnership, formed in 2011, supports the nine Francophone countries in West Africa to address the need for modern contraception in the region. The OP’s goal is to increase modern contraceptive use by an additional 6.5 million users between 2020 and 2030. However, the OP has a rapidly growing population of young women aged 15–24, who make up 42% of all reproductive-age women on average across the OP countries. Adolescents aged 15–19 are just beginning sexual activity, marrying and bearing children, yet their reproductive health needs often go unmet, and their voices go unheard. The OP 2030 goal cannot be achieved without addressing the needs of young people, and of adolescents in particular. The OP is therefore aiming to reach one million additional young people by 2030.

We are hopeful that the outcomes of the ASHER project, generated by an impressive partnership of researchers and youth leaders across six different countries in Asia and Africa, will help us to meet our goal–and help all of us here tonight to reach millions more young people with the information, products, and services they need. Adolescent SRHR is a sensitive, complicated issue. Our work in this space is often an uphill battle. We face prohibitive laws, service delivery challenges, an outdated colonial code, social, cultural, and religious barriers, and a historical lack of information available to young people, especially

We also face a persistent lack of data on the reproductive health of young people and whether the services designed for them really meet their needs. We need more and better research so governments, civil society, and donors can make better decisions. The research project you’ll hear more about tonight aims to help fill these gaps. The team’s researchers in Cameroon, Ghana, India, Malawi, Nepal, and Rwanda will develop analysis of the policies and best practices these six countries deployed to create impressive progress on adolescent sexual and reproductive health.

As with all research, these findings will create an impact only if they are discussed, analyzed, and used to deepen our understanding of the issue and to inform decision-making. That’s why it’s so important that you are all here tonight as the policymakers, funders, youth leaders, program officers, and partners this research is meant to serve. Your voices are an essential part of this dialogue on how evidence-based decision-making can protect the health and well-being of young people.

The Ouagadougou Partnership and the Exemplars in Global Health program share the core belief that we are stronger together. When it comes to improving young people’s access to life-saving sexual and reproductive health interventions, we are more powerful when we collaborate and learn from each other’s successes and challenges. For an issue as complex and sensitive as adolescent SRHR, knowledge-sharing, evidence, and data are especially critical. The experiences, education, and services young people have around their sexuality and reproductive health are formative. They impact their development, health, and ability to live up to their full potential.

We know how powerful the impact can be for communities, societies, and economies when young people–especially girls–have the tools to access the sexual and reproductive health services they need. I’m looking forward to tonight’s conversations and furthermore to seeing the results and impact of the Exemplars in Global Health ASRHR research project, which I am convinced will provide important information for decision-making and help both the Exemplar countries and their peer countries meaningfully improve ASRHR outcomes.

Thank you again for having me, and I wish you all an excellent evening


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