International Day of Girl Child

The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating existing inequalities and disrupting access to vital health and support services. However, it has also accelerated the use of digital health and tools. This provides an opportunity, especially for children and adolescents under 18 who account for an estimated 1 in 3 internet users worldwide.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Special Research Programme HRP present some of the ways in which digital health solutions are playing a role in promoting girls’ empowerment and fulfilment of their human rights.

Trusting young people, learning from them and paying them for their work

When it comes to their health, the technologies they use, and how they access information, young people are well-placed to articulate their needs and contribute to finding solutions as equal and valuable partners. However, they still encounter considerable resistance to meaningful collaboration when it comes to programmes, strategies, policies, funding mechanisms and organizations that directly affect their lives.

Youth-centred digital health interventions, is a framework developed by WHO, HRP, UNESCO, UNICEF and UNFPA in 2021. It affirms that to design effective digital health solutions for young people, young people should lead and make decisions. It also includes a list of “do’s and don’ts” for engaging young people in the process of digital health design and delivery.

Online resources can enable girls to seek care

Recent WHO data on violence against women shows that nearly 1 in 4 (24%) of adolescent girls who have been in a relationship experience physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner. Young women are at highest risk of recent violence (that is, they have experienced violence in the past 12 months).

Interventions with adolescents and young people to foster gender equality and gender-equitable attitudes are vital for effective prevention.

The rates of violence and reported rise during COVID-19 pose a great threat and are harmful to women, children and families. Targeted investment in sustainable and effective evidence-based prevention strategies at local, national, regional and global levels is essential for preventing violence – in all its forms – against women and girls in future.

WHO has developed a number of new resources on addressing violence against women and girls in the context of COVID-19.

Digital media can contribute to the delivery of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE)

Technology cannot replace the support and guidance of adults in a child’s or young person’s life, but there are many ways that it can be leveraged to support education, counselling and care related to sexuality, sexual identity, and sexual relationships.

WHO recently collaborated with partners, including HRP, to develop guidance for out-of-school CSE programmes that are appropriate and safe for different groups of children and young people. This complements the guidance developed by the United Nations on school-based sexuality education.

Both these guidance documents assess the appropriateness of using digital media as a delivery mechanism for CSE. Both reiterate that sexual activity is part of normal and healthy living, as is giving and receiving sexual pleasure.

Access to information highlights disparities, but disaggregated data also empowers

Data show that adolescents in Sub-Saharan Africa bear the highest burden of adverse sexual and reproductive health outcomes, when compared to adolescents in other parts of the world. These and other glaring inequalities need urgent attention.

Equity is a critical consideration in adolescent sexual and reproductive health. Ensuring that adolescents and young people have the same access to contraceptive information and quality services, and can make decisions about their fertility, is key to promoting their health and human rights.

In recognition of the considerable challenges faced by adolescents to their sexual and reproductive health and rights, WHO has published a series of “country profiles” that summarize data on ten different areas of adolescent SRH. Such disaggregated data is crucial for unmasking “pockets” of poor health outcomes hidden in national averages, and improving decision making to truly drive health for all adolescents.

Driving change for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in all their diversity

It is more than 25 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing the health rights of women and girls.

At the recent Generation Equality Forum marking the anniversary of this landmark global policy framework, WHO committed to investing in the evidence base for sexual and reproductive health and rights, including delivering CSE outside school settings, supporting 25 countries in increasing adolescents’ access to and use of contraception, and building knowledge among adolescents of their entitlements and ability to advocate for their needs.

While there are no digital quick fixes for young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, there are many reasons to be optimistic.

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