Breaking the silence and saving lives: young people’s sexual and reproductive health in the Arab States and Iran

Breaking the silence and saving lives: young people’s sexual and reproductive health in the Arab States and Iran

Governments failing to provide adequate sexual and reproductive health services for young people in the Arab States and Iran

This research reviews young people’s sexual and reproductive health (YPSRH) and gender issues affecting young people ages 10–24 in 19 Arab States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The situation analysis revealed an urgent need for investment in young people’s programmes and for increased attention to this age group.

The main findings include:

  • there is rising age at marriage for both males and females, however, early marriage is still a problem in pockets of all societies, and there are increasing numbers of single women
  • the Arab States account for only 3 per cent of maternal deaths worldwide, but many of these deaths are concentrated in a few countries – particularly Yemen, Djibouti, Morocco, Egypt and Sudan
  • national-level data is scarce concerning STIs because of stigma, poor reporting and lack of research, however, the few studies done suggest that STIs are disproportionately high among young people
  • given the relatively low HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in all but two countries - Sudan and Djibouti, the region faces a critical window of opportunity now to prevent a generalised HIV/AIDS epidemic
  • female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is practised in four countries of the region – Egypt, Sudan, Yemen and Djibouti – although, in Yemen, it is confined to certain regions of the country. Campaigns against the practice have been ongoing for several decades in Sudan, Egypt and Yemen particularly, although they have recently gained greater momentum with government commitment to its eradication
  • some studies on attitudes to violence against women have shown high levels of acceptance of such violence among young people and adults of both sexes. ‘Honour killings’ are a particular form of violence - to date, however, few governments have addressed this sensitive issue or developed programmes to address it
  • the major challenge in the region is the lack of willingness among government leaders to address YPSRH issues. For that reason, the region is characterised by a scattering of isolated YPSRH programmes, most of which have been initiated by NGOs, but no mainstream and scaled-up programmes, with the exception of Tunisia’s government programme and Iran’s premarital counselling programme.

Policy recommendations to governments include:

  • increase investment in the health and development of young people
  • review human rights treaties and laws
  • expand access to education, employment, and SRH services
  • prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions, which will contribute to reducing abortion-related morbidity and mortality.
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