The year 2013, which comes to an end today, had been a roller coaster – but thank you for all you did to make it so. It started with some interesting discussion regarding ‘communication, advocacy and reporting’ and then moved on the ‘trauma healing’ in the context of conflict and post-conflict reconstruction, healing and reconciliation. Both topics have a psychological as well as policy underpinning. The year was also filled with many international and national reports, some still ongoing. Finally, the year reconnected me with my first love: youth sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Firstly, why do we communicate? At the heart of communication is information sharing intended to affect, influence or modify attitudes and behaviours. This can be individual behaviour or those of a collective – for example decision-makers. Influencing individuals in a programmatic context may include those intended to change behaviour for individual good, for example to prevent disease infection, or for social good, to prevent transfer of an infection from individuals to the larger population. In a policy context, it is intended to influence the ways in which policies and associated action programmes are framed and implemented, in order to ensure that they result in the greater good of all affected. Further, communication in a policy context can be a means of advocacy, a means to promote alternative policy processes and approaches to their implementation. It could also be an avenue for marketing a new policy (an interesting concept called policy marketing).
Secondly, the idea of healing trauma is itself grounded in clinical and counselling psychology. Healing the wounds in a post-conflict situation is critical to build self-esteem among individuals, reducing social tensions, healing the wounds, returning social order and preventing relapse. In order to achieve those ends, there is therefore a solid need for deliberate actions and policies to be put in place to rebuild broken infrastructure which could ‘trigger’ relapse in those communities, treat those who have experienced the most severe shocks and to ensure resettlement of those whose homes have been destroyed. In part, achieving these require adequate investment in strengthening the education and health delivery systems. It requires ensuring that the needed mental health expertise is put in place to provide relevant treatment and support to those most in need. In addition, schools in these areas need to recruit counselling psychologists to monitor and support children and adolescents. Further, social services in these communities need to be strengthened.
Thirdly, many countries are increasingly seeking to answer the question: how are our young people doing? This kind of soul-searching is inspired by many recent events. Across the developing and developed countries, there is a growing problem of youth unemployment and in some countries it is well over 50 per cent. But the major trigger for this kind of soul-searching might have come from the Arab spring uprising, which awakened countries to the need to respond to the challenges that their youth face. In some writings, youth unemployment has been described as a time-bomb waiting to explode. So perhaps it is an act of genuine soul-searching or it is a forced response to a real or perceived problem. The main questions are: what dimensions matter in each context, and; how can we create measures that show the best results on the status of youth? I am happy to have been part of three such processes this year, nationally and internationally. But most importantly, this is a question that needs to be given serious thought, particularly as the notion of national youth reports and youth development indices gains increasing popularity: the Commonwealth launched a youth development index this year and a youth wellbeing index is underway.
Fourthly, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, has shown genuine passion for adolescent (unintended/unwanted) pregnancies. The most profound dimension he insists is the fact that the situation is beyond the control of many of these young girls because they’re forced into marriages that they do not want, but which always comes with the expectation that they have children (simply put the economic, cultural and social factors against the girls’ makes choice impossible for them). Taking the lessons from this narrative, it is important to note that sexuality education needs to target multiple audiences: the youth, the elders in their communities, their parents, as well as religious and community leaders. Such effort needs to transcend the health dimension and must include the social and economic dimensions.
For example, we need to ask questions such as: how can we provide incentives to encourage education in rural areas, in order to ensure that girls, and boys, remain in school? What is the opportunity cost of a girl who gets married off at 12 to herself, her family, her community and country? What are the potential trade-offs that can be made and what is the rate of return on the options presented by such trade-offs? We know the evidence is there. We know that when women are more educated, their contribution to household income and tax revenue is significant. These are facts that must be integrated in our work towards sexuality education particularly for rural communities. But we must make sure our evidence is contextually grounded. Further, we must make sure we make family planning commodities available and accessible and we must make sure they reach those who need them the most.
The scope of this particular blog post reflects how my life has been in 2013, and I want to thank you, especially you for what you did to make it so. I cannot thank you enough. All I can say is that you have my best wishes and I hope we can collaborate again in 2014.