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“The sad demise of my dear friend due to lack of knowledge and inadequate medical facilities during childbirth motivated me to become a changemaker and work for a society that does not consider subjects like reproductive and sexual health as taboo,” says Joshua Dilawar, a member of the National Youth Council from Lahore.

Joshua said his friend was only 17 years old when she died. “Actually, she was not in good health to get pregnant. She only conceived due to pressure from her family. She had to undergo a caesarian section when she was eight months pregnant because of the challenges to her health. Sadly, both she and the baby did not survive the procedure”.

The young man said he also came to know that the medical centre which carried out the caesarian section was not adequately equipped to provide emergency obstetric care.

An active member of the National Youth Council, Joshua is part of the Prime Minister of Pakistan’s flagship ‘Kamyab Jawan’ (Prosperous Youth) Programme established in 2018 to advance youth engagement, employment, and education, with the focus on loan schemes, microcredits and scholarships for young people to encourage entrepreneurship and to generate livelihoods.

The need arose for reliable data and evidence for outreach, accountability, and expansion during the programme’s implementation. To meet this need, UNFPA, under its mandate of expanding rights and choices for young people, in partnership with the Kamyab Jawan programme and collaboration with Commonwealth UK and UNDP, generated data creating an evidence base on the status of youth in Pakistan through the Youth Development Index (YDI).

“Kamyab Jawan is a testament of the government’s commitment to engage our youth in healthy and productive activities and realize their true potential. Educated, empowered and healthy youth can achieve a peaceful and prosperous society. We value UNFPA’s partnership in the success of the Kamyab Jawan programme. The Sehatmand Jawan programme is a dynamic synergy between youth empowerment and community health.” Said Mr. Usman Dar, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Youth Affairs.

UNFPA worked with the Kamyab Jawan programme to prioritize young people’s health and reproductive rights outlined in the National Youth Development Framework. Various studies informed this endeavour and focused on youth and adolescents under the themes of sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), life skills-based education, child marriages, gender-based violence (GBV) and the impact of COVID-19 on youth wellbeing.

UNFPA is now engaging with the National Youth Council members to train them on communications and leadership, GBV, human rights, SRHR and life skills to help them expand their spheres of influence and become a catalyst for positive change.

To build their capacity, UNFPA supported the youth council members in drafting a new constitution for the Council, enabling it to become an independent body, drafting policy briefs on young people’s SRHR needs with the help of experts and leading initiatives for marginalized young people. This is how these members are becoming the voice of the voiceless, for example, by advocating for friendly public spaces for persons with disabilities.

“Youth-centric investments go a long way in shaping a better world. When empowered and given the right opportunities, youth become effective drivers of change. Empowering youth includes establishing platforms for them to voice their concerns, practice their leadership skills and contribute to the policies that affect them,” said Dr. Bakhtior Kadirov, UNFPA Pakistan Representative, ai. “We attach great value to giving young people the skills to live to their fullest and be heard. We will continue to partner with youth and adolescents in Pakistan to ensure that they enjoy rights and opportunities and become leaders of tomorrow”.

In Pakistan, youth and adolescents constitute 31 percent at 64.4 million, referred to as a ‘youth bulge’. Although young people form the largest fraction of the country’s workforce, the unemployment rate among youth remains highest at 11.5 percent. Young girls face health risks and consequences of child marriage, early childbearing, school dropout and gender-based violence (GBV).

Large shares of youth can accelerate economic growth and development if the potential of young people is tapped through the development of skills and opportunities for them to thrive and grow.

UNFPA also enriched the skills development component of the Kamyab Jawan programme by introducing the Life Skills Based Education, a comprehensive curriculum for youth to adopt safe health‐seeking behaviours and protect themselves from abuse, exploitation, drugs, and disease. The first-ever Life Skills Based Education digital campaign reached over 250,000 young people with reproductive health and rights messages, psychosocial support, and referrals. This was a testimony of the existing appetite among youth for information and services on these critical issues.

Informed by the evidence and moved by the advocacy, the Kamyab Jawan programme and UNFPA is planning to develop a joint project – ‘Sehatmand Jawan’ (Healthy Youth), with a special focus on employment generation for young people in the health sector and providing information and services to young people around SRHR. Under the programme, young women and girls will be trained as nurses, Lady Health Workers and midwives. This will help them earn a livelihood and help fill the huge gap in the country for the health workforce at the community level.

Another milestone in advancing health rights for youth was achieved with the development of Pakistan’s Adolescents and Youth Reproductive Health and Rights Strategy in partnership with the Ministry of Health.

UNFPA adopted a merit-based approach in selecting the National Youth Council for the year 2021-22 to ensure representation of youth from diverse groups of ages, abilities, and areas. The selection criteria also considered the innovation and active contribution that the candidates made to benefit their communities. The new National Youth Council, comprising 33 members, was notified by the Prime Minister on 3 June 2021.

 Meanwhile, Joshua says UNFPA helped him enhance his confidence and boost his leadership skills. “I was able to capitalize on opportunities, create more platforms for young people and spread awareness on their wellbeing. UNFPA also enabled my voice to be heard at International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP2018) and the Nairobi Summit ICPD25,” he says.