Every year the AstraZeneca Young Health Programme (YHP), together with Plan International, reaches young people all around the world with information about the prevention of non-communicable diseases. Through a gendered lens, the YHP realises that girls and young women experience health issues in different ways than boys, and works to equip and empower girls to make more informed decisions when it comes to their health.
As well as socio-economic background, other factors including gender can further compound health inequalities. Evidence shows that girls and boys experience puberty, wellbeing and health-related issues in very different ways.”
For example, girls face challenges in getting adequate physical activity in some communities where girls’ participation in outdoor sports and exercise is not culturally acceptable. To promote girls access to sport, the YHP has implemented mixed rugby teams which have become a popular way to break down stereotypes in a fun and healthy way.
Young people of all genders within the YHP report challenges in eating a healthy diet. In addition to healthier foods being less accessible and affordable, girls are often pressured to conform to a certain body image, while boys have reported cases of bullying for bringing healthy lunches to school. YHP’s founding partner, Plan International, has established nutrition awareness camps which operate within the YHP to promote greater gender equality. By encouraging boys to be more involved with cooking and household chores and supporting families to make more nutritious food choices, for example, by teaching them to growing their own herbs and vegetables in cost-effective ways, it can lead to sustainable and positive change.
Across all YHPs which operate in partnership with Plan International, girls and boys are trained as peer educators on a variety of NCD primary risk factors. By equipping girls in particular to speak out and challenge gender stereotypes through the YHP, they are able to build their self-confidence and voice to speak up on the issues that matter to them most.
I am knowledgeable and able to speak, but there are many girls out there like me, who are not able to speak yet... we need the platform that YHP gave us.”
The YHP is youth-led and highly responsive to the needs of the young people with whom it works and which it serves, and so local programmes adapt to make it as impactful as possible. For example, YHP Kenya has put a lot of emphasis on the inclusion of women and girls by working with boys to deconstruct gender bias and stereotypes, and has equipped girls to be able to access health facilities when they need it. Over the past five years, 52% of the programme’s direct reach and 54% of the programme’s indirect reach were girls and young women.
Gender, sexuality and health in general are unusual subjects to be addressed, whether in family, at school or among our very own friends.’
Since its launch in 2010, YHP has been conscious that gender and the fight against NCDs are intertwined in a variety of ways. By equipping all young people with knowledge on NCD prevention and find their own solutions to promote long-term health, the YHP is helping them to make better health choices for brighter life chances.