UNFPA Pacific Sub-Regional Office

International Women’s Day- Time to focus on Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) young women

Date: 04/04/2015

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) PNG uses International Women's Day to highlight the needs of young women throughout the country

Young women’s leader, Diane Kambanei, speaks to a group of young women at a US embassy event ''Day of the Girl" with grade 7, 8 and 9 girls of caritas school. Picture: UNFPA PNG SUPPLIED

06 March 2015, Port Moresby- Diane Kambanei, General Secretary of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), grew up in a small town in the Sepik. Her childhood in this part of Papua New Guinea introduced her to some of the obstacles faced by women across the country. She became a champion for ensuring young women can have access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, giving these young women the option to choose when and how many children they want to have.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) has a growing population of young people with the 2011 Census reporting 57% of the population are under 25 years of age. The unprecedented numbers of young people, particularly young women, throughout the country has a profound effect on every aspect of social and economic development in PNG.

The needs and rights of these young women are often overlooked. The contraceptive prevalence rate is low in PNG among with only 29% of young female accessing contraceptive services. This means that adolescent birth rates are high, nearly twice the regional average. Maternal mortality rates are also about twice the regional average, in part because early pregnancy poses increased risks to women's and girl's health.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in partnership with YWCA, is working to disable some of the obstacles faced by young women throughout the county. The collaboration between the two organisations was begun with a radio program called TokStret on NBC. The use of radio was seen as an effective tool to be able to get information about sexual and reproductive health out to remote parts of the country where it is difficult for young women to access information and services. The partnership has evolved to include youth outreach activities aimed at empowering young women and making sure they feel safe and confident to have control over their own bodies.

"SRH (sexual and reproductive health) training is important; I would say it is a necessity in PNG. From our experience (YWCA) conducting sexual reproductive health training for many years we have seen that SRH is not properly addressed in schools because teachers aren't sensitised to SRH issues and therefore aren't comfortable to talk about this in schools," says Kambanei. "When young women aren't informed at school or at home they make misinformed choices."

UNFPA and its implementing partners including the YWCA are calling for urgent investments in young women so they may be engaged in their communities and the development of PNG. Critical investments needed are those that protect rights, including reproductive rights, improve health, including sexual and reproductive health, and provide skills and knowledge to build young women's capabilities and agency. Continued focus on young women and their needs into the future is a high priority for PNG and central to the next chapter in the country's development.