Passing out condoms Cambodia

Let's talk about sex, girl advocate tells UN leaders at CPD48

If you only had a moment to tell United Nations leaders what they should prioritise, what would you choose? Girl advocate Angelica Rego, 24, got that chance when she addressed the UN at the 48th session of the Commission on Population and Development. She asked them to prioritise girls’ sexual and reproductive health. Here is her full statement, in her own words.

We have three minutes to capture your attention. Three minutes to convince you to take action about pressing issues that have plagued girls globally for decades.

Nations from different corners of the world have come together to consolidate their ideas concerning population development for the post-2015 development agenda. However, there is one voice that has been missing: girls’ voices. Our voices. 

Around the world, girls are too often denied their fundamental human rights, all in the name of cultural beliefs. Many people are unaware of the importance of family planning and do not have sufficient access to sexual and reproductive health services. In cases where contraceptives are available, the prevalence of controversial cultural beliefs discourage use. Instead of serving their purpose as an aid to ensure quality of life, contraceptives are viewed as shameful.

We dream of a world where women and girls are valued for their minds and are not treated like vessels for reproduction.

Another issue is girls being married and becoming mothers before they are mentally and physically capable of carrying this burden. Gender-based violence, such as female genital mutilation, is another problem girls face around the world. These problems tend to stem from tradition, culture and beliefs. Yes, traditions, cultures and beliefs are important, but they should never hinder the fundamental rights of a human being. Girls are human beings, and all over the world they are deprived of their fundamental rights, including their right to education, economic security, safety and health, including their right to sexual and reproductive health.  

These issues have to be addressed immediately if we are to achieve sustainable development. Child marriages can be stopped by keeping girls in school longer. Education facilities that guarantee a safer environment for girls may encourage parents to keep them in school.

Furthermore, comprehensive sexual education should not be considered taboo; rather it should be taught so young people can learn about their bodies, and prevent STIs and unintended pregnancy.

Female condom

Moreover, nationwide and worldwide campaigns should be organised to promote the advantages and use of contraceptives. These campaigns could distribute material in households outlining the benefits and debunking myths.

It is imperative that governments work with civil society and UN agencies to improve access to healthcare facilities that fully address sexual and reproductive health and rights. This is possible by more community participation and organising campaigns.

Furthermore, it is necessary that government officials work harder to put an end to child marriages through policies that protect children. Sex education should be made compulsory in every school to benefit girls. These dialogues will decrease stigma and taboo surrounding sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Girls at risk of harmful traditional practices should have allies and resources for support, and the practices should be strictly prohibited by law. It is important to understand that although religion and culture are important, they should not hinder an individual's access to any form of healthcare or the improvement of their quality of life. These ideals must be included in the post-2015 development agenda.

Today we stand here, our hopes up and our heads high. We dream of a world where women and girls are valued for their minds and are not treated like vessels for reproduction; where women and girls are allowed to access and use contraceptives; where women and girls freely obtain information related to reproductive healthcare without fear; and where women decide when and who to marry.

If these basic rights are granted, girls and women will live happier and healthier lives. Without promoting these rights, we will fail to achieve our collective sustainable development goals.

As a member of the International Youth Leadership Council at Advocates for Youth, Angelica Rego champions sexual and reproductive health and rights policy in the United States and internationally. A recent college graduate from University of Maryland, she has a degree in community health.