3.4.3 Integrate programs to address the root causes of risky behavior and transactional sex

Adolescent girls and young women living in poverty face economic challenges that force them into risky behavior, frequently with the tacit approval of their families. In Uganda, young people consulted mentioned the following issues:

  • “If a father is not providing and a mother is not producing, a girl will engage in sex to support her family and the mother will not ask where the money comes from.”
  • “A girl may sleep with different men depending on what she needs. If she needs less money, she may go with a younger man. If she needs food, she may have sex with a chapati maker.”

Those comments reveal deeper economic issues that sexual and reproductive health programming alone may not solve. Integrated programming empowers girls to develop new economic opportunities while also equipping them with the health knowledge they needs to make positive decisions.

Practical Tips: Restless Development on Empowering Youth with Integrated Economic and Health Programming

Restless Development, the youth-led development agency, is a global organization that works in eight countries in Africa and South Asia to promote civic participation, SRH, and livelihoods and employment. They advise the following:

  • Build the capacity of and engage young people in the design, implementation, and evaluation of development programs in their communities or countries.  Work with young people both in and out of school, as both groups require viable and effective livelihood options to supplant high-risk behavior motivated by economic insecurity.
  • Implement integrated programming on health, life skills, gender, civic participation, and livelihoods in order to support young people in securing productive work, practicing safe sex, and participating in local decision making and development.
  • Organize young people in groups and build their capacity to identify viable businesses with a well-designed support and mentorship structure, as youth require consistent support and mentorship to enable them improve their economic status. Market assessments and value chain development should be a key component in business development
  • Support national government to implement policies and deliver services to young people, while building the capacity of youth to fulfill government requirements (e.g., they need to have a well-organized leadership structure, business plan, and constitution). For example, Restless Development facilitated the registration of youth groups with the national agricultural extension agency, so that the groups could then be eligible for agricultural subsidies.
  • Adopt new livelihood strategies that may deviate from traditional gender norms. Young people improved their knowledge of cultivation techniques to grow vegetables such as cabbages, greens, onions, and tomatoes. This is a new activity for many of them, particularly for males, who traditionally engage in livestock rearing. Poultry keeping is also popular, particularly among young women.

In one of Restless Development’s programs—the Youth Empowerment Program in the Karamoja region of Uganda—evaluation data indicated a 72 percent increase of young people adopting safe SRH behaviors, a 43 percent increase of young people accessing SRH-related services, a 49 percent increase of young people engaged in market-driven livelihood enterprises, and a 52 percent increase in household incomes.