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| June 26, 2013

The Big Picture: Viewing Gender, SRH and Very Young Adolescents through a Wide Angle Lens

[Cross-posted from the original article on the IYWG blog “Half the World,” 25 June 2013]


Last week, FHI360 and the FAM Project at Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH) hosted the 2013 meeting of USAID’s Interagency Youth Working Group (IYWG): “The Big Picture: Viewing Gender, SRH and Very Young Adolescents through a Wide Angle Lens.” During the meeting participants discussed the importance of reaching this unique population with sexual and reproductive health programming; successful interventions, emerging research, and best practices for working with this population; and recommendations for the a “next wave” of research and programs.

Early adolescence is a period of rapid and intense physical, cognitive and social changes and the time when one’s personal identity is formed. Very young adolescents (VYAs) — those between the ages of 10 and 14 — acquire information, explore values, develop attitudes and experiment with behaviors that have the potential to affect their present and future well-being. Both boys and girls internalize cultural messages about what it means to be a man or a woman, which will also influence their attitudes, behaviors and health outcomes. Unfortunately, however, studies show that most VYAs lack the knowledge and skills needed to help them reduce the risks of unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV; the challenges of early marriage; and their vulnerability to sexual violence and coercion.

VYAs often want advice and support from adults, yet parents, teachers, caretakers and other adults who interact with VYAs are often ill-equipped to talk about these issues.

The importance of focusing on VYAs, their families and their communities is gaining attention. There are now more programs and research addressing the special needs of this age group and new ways of strengthening VYA resilience. There is a critical need for an expanded evidence base of effective interventions and best practices and a next wave of research and programs that can strengthen and inform our approach to VYAs.

The meeting was followed by a half-day technical consultation where leading experts in this field reviewed key outcomes and lessons from the 2013 IYWG meeting. The workshop deliberations and conclusions will inform recommendations for improving the sexual and reproductive health of VYAs to guide programing and investment at international, country, and local levels. We’ll be producing a YouthLens brief that summarizes effective and promising programs, research results, and the recommendations generated from the meeting.


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