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In honor of Earth Day, we asked members of the Girl Engagement Advisory Board to tell us about linkages between the environmental and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in their countries!

If girls aren’t treated equally, if we’re continued to be put down, then so is the whole human race. And if the whole of humanity is fractured and suffering, how are we meant to help the planet? – Allison, 19, United States

Globally, people are consuming huge amounts of resources every day. Although many people and organisations are trying to reduce their consumption of resources and their carbon waste, the earth still faces imminent danger. This is because of the uncontrollable growth of population which makes the depletion of resources inevitable. The rate of growth of population is growing so out of hand that future generations may be deprived of many necessary resources. One of the main causes of this population increase is the deprivation of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Especially in developing countries, most people have no access to contraceptives and, for example in Egypt, people refrain from using contraceptives even when they are available. Moreover girls get married at very early ages and, consequently, have many children. Reproductive healthcare is nonexistent or very poor so women give birth to many children because they expect most of them to die. Also, people in poor villages think that their only contribution to society is by having more children. These issues exacerbate the population problem. However, these issues can be solved if governments start providing free healthcare and start focusing on the importance maternal health. They should also prioritize SRHR and make comprehensive sexuality education compulsory in schools. Also, they have to ensure girls are getting their education and pass laws that prohibit forced and early marriage. If we take all of the aforementioned measures we can definitely control population growth and save our environment. – Mai, 16, Egypt

International Mother Earth day is celebrated every year to remind each of us that the earth and its eco-systems provide us with life and sustenance.In Nigeria, there is a high misuse of natural resources and a nonchalant attitude towards waste disposal, although with the current government this is gradually becoming a thing of the past as Nigerians are becoming more conscious of their environment. Today more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. As the urban population grows and the effect of climate change worsens, our cities have to evolve. Changes have to be made.  In relation to SRHR, more awareness needs to be created and enlightment made towards the gradual acceptance and use of contraceptives although the rate of acceptance here in Nigeria is slow, NGOs are doing all possible to arrive at the much expected change.

On a final note the UN Secretary General Banki-moon said and i quote “I appeal to all people everywhere to raise their voices. Speak out on behalf of this planet, our only home. Let us care for MOTHER EARTH so she can continue to care for us as she has done for millennia”. – Elizabeth, 19
I believe that there are intrinsic linkages between environmental protection and the SRHR movement. One of the more prominent elements is to preserve the resources of women and nature in order for our societies to survive. Just as we need to put safeguards in place to ensure that our environment is preserved and protected for generations to come, so safeguards need to be in place for girls and women in order to ensure that society is propelled forward.

However, in my country, I do not feel that both movements are symbiotic. Usually, depending on what is most pressing in news media, that tends to be the central focus of our government and the society at large. If there is a major environmental occurrence, then you will hear talks about prospective plans to be implemented that are geared to protecting the environment and bodies concerning those issues get brought to the forefront. Conversely, if there is a spike in teenage pregnancy for instance, then SRHR becomes a ‘Hot Topic’ and all the relevant bodies are brought forward and solutions are posited. There is not enough time spent on either major issue as the government seeks to remain current in their initiatives. We know that in reality, each issue needs their own individual protection and long term initiatives need to be executed and maintained.

Environmental concerns are inter-weaved with a girls’ rights to health, safety, education, citizenship and economic security in the following ways:

Health: If the environment surrounding us is not stabilized, then girls will be more susceptible to health deficiencies and will not be able to access clinics when needed. This will also trickle down to other members of societies. Also, if we do not sensitize members of society on the value of preserving the environment, then how can we effectively sensitize society on SRHR?

Safety: A safe environment aids in guaranteeing the safety of its members. Proper sanctions need to be in place to ensure that the safety of the environment and our girls are adhered to.

Education: It is generally countries that are not focused on education that tend to have environmental and SRHR issues. This is because persons practice what they see and if they are not taught about better methods to handle daily activities without taking proper precautions, this will lead to the degradation of society. Instances of this in my country is the burning of small amounts of trash (which is an environmental hazard) and not practicing safe sex (due to cultural beliefs).

Citizenship: Just as a girls citizenship and status in her country is a necessity to her feeling safeguarded, similarly, flora, fauna and natural resources indigenous to our own country must be sufficiently protected to ensure its posterity. Persons should not be able to destroy our natural resources in the same way that girls should not be commodified or seen as second class citizens in their respective societies.

Economic Security: Sufficient finances should be pumped into environmental initiatives to ensure their preservation for generations to come. In a similar vein, sufficient finances should also be provided to further SRHR initiatives in all countries and societies as these safeguards assist generations to come. – Christal, Jamaica, 19

The environment is tightly connected with the safety and health of the girls. What surrounds us could play a great role in people’s lives, especially in those of young girls. Clear water and fresh air are very important to people’s health, because otherwise it can cause many diseases. There are many small villages, cities and countries in the world that doesn’t have access to these essentials and that makes it harder to keep a healthy way of life. We should pay more attention to the world around us in order to make ourselves feel better and protect our children , so that they could have a proper environment for living. – Preslava, 19, Bulgaria

Categories: International