We spoke to young people from the Western Balkans about how their access to sexual and reproductive health and rights was affected by the COVID pandemic, and asked them about their vision for re-designing a more youth-friendly future in which young people can flourish.
This 23-year-old LGBTIQ man from Bosnia and Herzegovina is a medical worker and an activist for youth SRHR*. As a volunteer peer educator, he supports other young people to learn and develop crucial life skills relating to their sexual and reproductive health.
Describe your experience of access to SRHR education, information and care before and during COVID.
Before COVID, I received information through some NGOs and if I went directly to the doctor. Very little was said about these topics in our country and information was only visible if I searched for it myself. Then during the pandemic everything moved to the internet and a lot of information started to be shared on social networks.
Did anything change for the better for you during the pandemic in terms of access to SRHR?
The pandemic has helped a lot in terms of better content and more accurate information on the internet. A new trend has been born, where influencers started to create content and dedicate their profiles to these topics. Thanks to the excellent response, this trend continued even after COVID and became part of everyday life. We forgot how to do things in person, so we left a lot of it to online platforms. I think that no matter how many shortcomings there are, it is very good because of the availability of information to everyone.
What was the biggest obstacle to your SRHR during the pandemic? How could decision-makers/medical professionals have improved this?
Unfortunately, during the pandemic, SRHR was not always in focus because of the “war” response to the virus. The high death rate and people’s fear of COVID meant that there was not much focus on the topic, and little media attention. People sadly still don’t understand the importance of SRHR. What could have changed is that doctors and politicians should have spoken more publicly about this topic and raised people’s awareness, but unfortunately they didn't do that.
What lessons should governments and professionals who work with youth learn from the pandemic about how to look after young people’s health and wellbeing in a crisis?
A very important lesson they should have learned is that they were not taking the right approach towards young people. If we have interesting and educational content, peer educators and youth leaders can easily reach them. It’s important to talk about taboo topics that every young person faces. We can only achieve change by changing the approach and understanding their needs.
What is your number 1 recommendation on what is needed to make services more youth-friendly?
I recommend that more workshops be held to provide information to health workers and people who work directly with young people so that they can provide answers to their questions. Care and support providers are often prevented from providing young people with accurate information because they themselves learn and receive information in an old-fashioned way. Lack of knowledge is the key to the problem.
* SRHR = sexual and reproductive health and rights
Interview conducted by Azra Mehmedovic, a member of the regional youth group of the IPPF EN project Youth Voices, Youth Choices, funded by MSD for Mothers