Candice Taylor, 18, joined the Jamaica Family Planning Association (JFPA) Youth Advocacy Movement (YAM) at age 15 after youth officer Fiona Francis introduced her to the group.
Initially, Taylor saw YAM as the only place where she could learn about sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Today, Taylor uses her knowledge and involvement with YAM to educate her peers about SRHR with hopes that they make more informed choices if they choose to engage in sex.
“I’ve seen teenagers get pregnant and it’s based off them never knowing routes they could take to prevent pregnancies. I figured I could play a role by learning it for myself, applying it to myself as well as talk to those around me to somewhat enlighten them about SRHR. I just wanted to be able to learn for myself and pass on the knowledge,” she said.
Taylor’s experience with YAM made her realize that SRHR is not limited to sex, but also about being empowered to make positive changes towards their health and wellbeing. Taylor wanted to be a voice for others and contribute to positive change.
“Seeing young girls divert to wanting more and because their parents were not able to provide, they turn to men. Also, I saw undue pressure being placed on girls to not have sex and that pressure, unfortunately, caused them to develop creative ways to go out and it so ends up that were left with an unwanted pregnancy. I was learning not only for myself, but to spread the word. I learned I needed to immerse myself in order to be an effective advocate,” she said.
Taylor has been to health fairs, spoken to her peers and adults about their sexual and reproductive health. The impact has been great.
“In my circle, I’ve seen people become more aware and more careful. In my teaching, my friends are inspired to join so I am looking to recruit soon,” she said.
Other positive elements of her involvement in YAM include the opportunities she has received which include holiday jobs and being part of official training courses on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
However, she has faced challenges especially around a lack of contraceptive use among her peers.
Putting the open-mindedness into action
“You can only educate someone, but you can’t force them to do what you’re promoting. You will have different people asking and you explain to them and show them different ways to approach stuff and they will outright be like ‘OK, I am still going to do my thing. This is how I am used to my thing’. So, they accept the information, but are they practicing the information? People are open minded, but it’s just for them to put the open mindedness into action,” Taylor explained.
In addition, Taylor said there are parents who are not open to discussing sexual and reproductive health with their children making it more challenging for young people to access contraception.
She suggests that parents either be involved in the advocacy or interventions that target them be implemented. Taylor also expressed a desire to see more detailed classes around sexual and reproductive healthcare in schools.
“Implement classes in school that are more detailed than what exists. The current lessons are basic and the most you’ll learn is the menstrual cycle. You’re learning enough to do your exam, not apply to real life. If this is in schools, the doctors and clinics may be more open to the reality that younger people are engaging in sex. To prevent unplanned pregnancies be more open,” Taylor said.
She added: “YAM has good intentions. These good intentions are definitely beneficial to the target audience. With more empowerment in the initiative we can move forward and complete the goal on a larger scale.”