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72nd United Nations General Assembly, Why should young people matter?

My name is Richard Dzikunu from Ghana, I am 26 years old. Just a year ago, I attended the High Level Political Forum on SDG here at the UN; I felt a sense of urgency and commitment from member states to do more to achieve the SDGs. From one session to another, one message was clear, to achieve sustainable development goals, no one should be left behind. While some progress has been made, there has been little commitment in terms of resources from governments at the national level as well as limited inclusion of young people in the implementation of the SDGs.

Government leaders should tap into the potential of the youthful population to achieve the SDGs. Young people have proven that, when giving the opportunity, resources and capacity building can deliver results and be agents of change in the communities. I am one of those young people; I am here at the 72nd session of the United Nations to share my story about how me and other young people are gaining grounds in the fight for gender equality in my country, Ghana.

Working with over 20 other young people from community based organizations; we gather vital data on maternal mortality rates with the aim of reducing deaths amongst expectant mothers. Our findings, based on research in 7 out of 10 regions, focuses mainly on rural mothers, health workers, traditional birth attendants, traditional leaders as well as adolescents both in and out of school.

Out of 553 young people surveyed, 45% had no knowledge of any form of contraception. 321 out of the total number of young people had already experienced their first sex. Out of this figure, only 200 did not use any form of contraceptives. As a young man, this matters to me a lot. In a country where we complain of unemployment, pressure on social amenities and health care services, we refuse to tackle the very root cause of unplanned pregnancy.

On maternal health ¾ of deliveries in Ghana are attended by untrained birth attendants. More than half of mothers in the focus group reported that they would rather have their delivery assisted by a traditional birth assistant than attend a health clinic. Women in these groups share their experiences, such as husbands threatening their pregnant wives and preventing them from attending pre-natal sessions because of how much it cost; and the problem of poor roads and lack of transport to get them to medical facilities. In one of our focused group discussions, I was saddened to know that a mother who was physically challenged died due to the lack of disability friendly facilities during her delivery. When we talk about leaving no one behind, these are the people we have to think of, the poor and vulnerable. If my government will come here to the U.N with speeches of hope and delegation of minsters and cannot commit resources to save the women, then we need to rethink our collective actions.

What our data has made clear is that Ghana needs to redouble its efforts to lower maternal mortality levels by revitalizing existing health and family planning services available. Fortunately the evidence we have produced is a significant step towards convincing the government to take action on maternal deaths and teenage pregnancy. We have developed new ‘indicators’ to measure the success of Global Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-being) and Global Goal 5 (Gender Equality), such as an indicator aimed at increasing training provided to traditional birth attendants. And we have fed these into the Ghana Health Service’s new Adolescent Health Policy and the Ghana family planning programme.

Our local action needs global recognition. At this year’s United Nations General Assembly, we need our leaders to engage with young people who are already turning the global rhetoric on the SDGs into local action in communities around the world. Together we can explore more radical approaches - like youth-led data driven accountability - that will help fulfill the promise of the SDGs to leave no behind.


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