Leave no one behind: participation is key to achieving the sexual and reproductive health targets of the SDGs

This week, the Sustainable Development Goals will be adopted during the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York, USA but these will not be achievable without the participation of those who are most affected.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 goals and 169 targets that will guide global development for the next 15 years. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals which addressed sexual and reproductive health under one target, the SDGs address sexual and reproductive health under two targets.

Target 7 of the SDG that relates to health, SDG 3, commits to: “By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programs.” Similarly, under the SDG that relates to gender equality, SDG 5, target 6 commits to: “Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences.”

With such explicit commitments made around sexual and reproductive health, what can we expect in the next fifteen years?

Leaving no one behind

As Claire Melamed of Development Progress states in her brief: “The commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ has been a key feature of all the discussions on the post-2015 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.” The SDGs aim to reach everyone. Yet, when it comes to access to sexual and reproductive health, there is a long way to go.

Through my work as a Key Correspondent, I had the privilege to meet and listen to the stories of Nicole and Roxy, two young sex workers from South Africa, a country where sex work is criminalised. Their stories illustrate how some people are still being left behind in accessing sexual and reproductive health services because the law prevents them to do so. Writing for the Lancet’s HIV blog, Cedric Ninanihizwe from Burundi shows how conflict can also affect the provision of sexual and reproductive health services.

In short, restrictive laws and policies, discrimination and political unrest can create gaps in the provision of sexual and reproductive health services for all. To overcome this, it is important to address human rights issues and take an approach that is inclusive of all.

The participation of young people

Another key group that must be included if the SDGs are to be achieved is young people. Young people are particularly affected when it comes to accessing sexual and reproductive health. The World Health Organization reports AIDS to be the main cause of adolescent death in Africa and the second leading cause of adolescent death worldwide. According to the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, young people account for 40% of all new HIV infections. Each day, more than 2,400 young people become infected with HIV – and some five million young people aged 15-24 are living with HIV.

Ban-Ki Moon, the United Nations’ Secretary General, has declared young people to be “the torchbearers” to implementing the SDGs.

As Restless Development’s Director of Policy and Practice, Mark Nowottny states in a recent blog: “Young people have taken centre-stage in the design of the SDGs, not least through their engagement with the High Level Panel and UN Major Group for Children and Youth.”

Yet young people and other key populations such as sex workers must also be part of the process to implementing the SDGs targets on sexual and reproductive health, otherwise the whole SDG design process will be, as Mark Nowottny, states:  “a tokenism exercise.”

Nina will be attending the UN General Assembly this week to report on events there – and to moderate a youth-led session which will discuss the role young people can play in the implementation of the SDGs.