A trusted entity in the SRHR policy landscape

Case

A trusted entity in the SRHR policy landscape

Youth engagement and policy influencing in Jordan

Young people in Jordan generally feel that family planning services fail to take their concerns seriously and fear being stigmatised by sexual and reproductive health service providers. The crisis has made young girls increasingly vulnerable to early pregnancy, child marriage, gender-based violence and sexual assault. Yet until recently, the needs of the youth in Jordan did not figure prominently in government policy.

Youth account for a fifth of Jordan’s overall population. Yet a national survey conducted among youth in 2011 discovered that over a quarter of the young women and just under half of young men were unaware of the meaning of reproductive health. What’s more, the conflict in neighbouring Syria seems to be aggravating the problem. Almost fifteen per cent of Jordan’s population are Syrian refugees, yet Syrian youth lack basic reproductive health knowledge and don’t know where to turn for help when they need it.

The steering committee was our most effective way of engaging with stakeholders
- Dr Jewel Gausman

The NWO-WOTRO-funded collaborative research project in Jordan, in which American academics and Jordanian academics and practitioners joined forces, has played a key role in feeding the development of a national sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) strategy that also targets the youth. The project, entitled ‘Understanding and meeting the sexual and reproductive health needs of Jordanian and Syrian youth’ and led by Dr Ana Langer, professor of the practice of public health at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, focused on identifying the SRHR needs of youth in Jordan and developing policy recommendations to cater to these needs. Along the way, the project has established itself as a known and trusted entity in the SRHR policy landscape.

Culture of silence

The SRHR project has initiated a major change, according to researcher Dr Areej Othman from the University of Jordan. After examining the policy, programmatic and research landscape it became clear that ‘youth are not considered a defined population segment and that SRHR services for young people are embedded in the general health-care system’. Getting SRHR services for youth firmly on the agenda required engaging the following stakeholders: government officials, representatives from NGOs and donors, academics, people working in the SRHR domain and, of course, Jordanian and Syrian youth. ‘No one had bothered to get the youth’s perspective,’ says researcher Dr Jewel Gausman from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. ‘We organised a workshop with all of these stakeholders, including the youth, to discover where their priorities lay.’

Given the culture of silence in Jordan around SRHR issues, what happened was remarkable. ‘We expected the youth to feel somewhat intimidated by the other stakeholders and hold back information, but we were all amazed how actively engaged and outspoken they were in the discussion,’ says Gausman. ‘We were also surprised to find that they wanted to involve their parents, who are usually assumed to be the last people youth want included in these kinds of issues.’ It led the team to alter their approach and include the parents as one of the focuses of the research. This outcome was certainly a major and welcome step forward in breaking down some of the barriers in the culture of silence around SRHR.

Identifying needs

Beginning with the initial consultation workshop, the project focused on ensuring that the end beneficiaries of the research were represented during the initial consultation workshop and subsequent dissemination workshops. Based on discussions with stakeholders, the project focused on participatory and interactive methodologies, especially with youth.

Picture: Flickr CC | David Stanley

Engaging the youth was also a crucial step towards identifying young people’s SRHR needs. One of the ways the team managed to achieve this is through a method called ‘concept mapping’, which encourages to talk openly about issues. In this case it consisted of three separate activities involving 288 boys and girls. These different exercises culminated in a visual map that distils what they think their SRHR needs are.

Creating momentum for change

The project held a kick-off workshop that made it possible to develop new connections and strengthen existing ones in the SRHR community as well as continue to incorporate youth perspectives into its planning, both of which helped to ensure that the study and its findings are relevant, useful and can be translated into action.

After the kick-off meeting, the project formed a steering committee consisting of opinion leaders, academics and policymakers working in the areas of reproductive health, education and youth in Jordan. ‘The steering committee was our most effective way of engaging with stakeholders,’ Gausman says. ‘We approached them for guidance at critical points throughout the project. I think that was one crucial way to give them ownership over the results and introduce them to the methodologies we were using. And it definitely helped them to consider our team as a key player in the reproductive health arena in Jordan.’

It has also helped to create much-needed momentum for change. ‘The project is filling an important gap in the SRHR landscape in Jordan by generating new knowledge that can significantly contribute to and inform policy,’ Othman says. Gausman is especially enthusiastic about her colleague’s trajectory in this process. ‘She’s gone from being relatively new in the field of youth SRHR at the start of this project, to reviewing the National Reproductive Health Strategy. I think that’s a very tangible way in which this project has helped build capacity in the area of sexual and reproductive health among the youth in Jordan, but also effectively engaged and influenced policy.’

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