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.
Tarin Husic is a 21-year-old student from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Tarin, describe your experience of access to SRHR* education, information and care before and during COVID.
Before COVID I was in high school where we had a few different education sessions and lectures about this topic. As we were not that familiar with a lot of things regarding SRHR, that was the time we should have been learning about it. After the pandemic started, life turned upside down and everything strived to be held online. During COVID, I had some problems relating to SRHR, so I wanted to inform myself more and more. One of the ways was to surf the internet and find all the necessary information. Doctors were better options, as we can take them more seriously. They would always draw my attention to SRHR-related issues, and in that way, I was able to gain knowledge and more information.
Did anything change for the better for you during the pandemic in terms of access to SRHR?
During the pandemic, I had a lot of time to think about things like SRHR and to pay more attention to my health in general. The internet was full of different information, including SRHR. I think that education, especially after the peak of the pandemic, should be taken more seriously, since there is a chance that people will pay much more attention to their health and how to improve it, or how to protect themselves, after surviving all those moments of isolation and restrictions.
What was the biggest obstacle to your SRHR during the pandemic? How could decision-makers/medical professionals have removed this obstacle?
Honestly, the internet sometimes can be an obstacle. You always find the harshest facts and information, besides what is useful. As you read all those things, your thoughts become more negative, and you start thinking in the wrong direction. Doctors' role is to give us the right information - otherwise we get carried away. We need them to be available and able to explain things, as well as drawing our attention to what is most important.
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?
I think the best way is to talk to young people and to see in which direction they are thinking, to try changing their perspectives to be as positive as possible. Young people are very often afraid to freely express themselves about something they need or about anything that is in their thoughts, and that should be taken into consideration. Sometimes they need to be given space to relax and talk about SRHR openly, since it is not yet a common topic in our surroundings.
What is your number 1 recommendation on what is needed to make services more youth-friendly?
I think that workshops, projects, and educational programs could be very useful to raise young people’s the awareness, knowledge and skills, since this topic tends to be avoided at our age. It would be important to try and organize some kind of education or just workshops that would keep young people interested. Then the topic would become less taboo and people would talk more openly about it, because in our country not many people have developed a culture of talking about topics like SRHR.
* SRHR = sexual and reproductive health and rights
Interview conducted by Ajla-Ena Burnazovic, a member of the regional youth group of the IPPF EN project Youth Voices, Youth Choices, funded by MSD for Mothers