On the surface, we look like we’re in our prime. People say my generation is young and determined, and that we have our whole future ahead of us.
But what if I told you that the young people of my generation are regularly denied the basic tools and information we need to plan our lives and protect our health? What if I told you that our future is at risk — and without action now, the future prosperity of Indonesia could be at risk, too?
In my region, we face a lot of problems, from early-age marriage to unplanned pregnancy, drug abuse, HIV/AIDS and more. But our biggest challenge is one of perception.
Sixty-five million young people, aged 10 to 24, live in Indonesia. We comprise 28 percent of the population. Whether we stay in school will determine how educated our country is. Whether we stay healthy enough to keep our jobs will determine how strong our economy is.
And yet many people in my community think there is no problem with early-age marriage that pulls girls out of school, robbing them of their youth and their education.
According to Statistics Indonesia (BPS), in most Indonesian provinces, more than a quarter of married women aged 20 to 24 reported they were married before the age of 18.
Further, many people still think it is better to have more children, even if that means stretching resources thin and preventing mothers from having jobs, because their time is absorbed by repeated pregnancies with short intervals, and by tending to the family.
Even though the data show that 1.7 million young women under 24 give birth each year — including half a million teenage girls — people still fear talking about family planning with youth, because of taboos and perceptions.
My generation accounts for more than a quarter of the population, yet our reproductive health is often overlooked.
At clinics we are told we are too young to need contraceptives, or that the services we want are not available. At school we find inadequate or nonexistent reproductive health information. And at home, reproductive health is shrouded in social taboos.
For the sake of Indonesia’s future, this needs to change.
Here, both married and unmarried young women don’t have access to sexual and reproductive health information and services they desire.
Only 45 percent of married girls (15 to 19 years old) who want to delay or prevent pregnancy are using a modern contraceptive method according to the Indonesian Demographic Health Survey (SDKI). And Indonesia has one of the highest rates of unplanned pregnancies across all of Asia.
These unplanned pregnancies undermine opportunities for education and employment, exacerbate poverty and perpetuate gender inequity.
Imagine what our communities and our economy would look like if the 1.7 million young women who have children each year finished school and joined the workforce instead?
Give us the chance to choose to have smaller families, later in life, that we’re better able to support. Give us a chance to contribute to the social and economic development of our country.
If we make small family changes like these, we’ll also have the potential to shift the demographics of Indonesia. We can be part of a movement to boost the percentage of working-age young adults, while reducing the number of dependents we support. This is key to helping the Indonesian economy reap the demographic dividend and grow.
We know we won’t get there alone. Around the world, thousands of youth are gathering, calling for greater access to family planning as I write these words.
Some of us are hosting events in our home countries today in recognition of World Contraception Day, while others are preparing to travel to Kigali in November for the 2018 International Conference on Family Planning. Together, we are starting a global movement.
But nothing will change for our futures or the futures of our home countries if we relegate these conversations to isolated events and conferences held at a safe distance. We need you to join us now, here in Indonesia, in making an investment in our shared future.
If you are a parent, consider the life opportunities your daughter might have if you give her your blessing to delay marriage and use contraceptives.
If you are a healthcare provider, consider how many lives you can change if you offer counseling and services to youth.
And if you are a politician or one of our leaders, consider what my generation can do for our country if you support our access to a range of family planning options. In 2017, Indonesia committed to providing access to modern contraceptives to an additional 2.8 million people by 2019. To reach this goal, the unique needs of youth cannot be left by the wayside.
As taboo as it may be, sexually active teenagers and young adults are capable of getting pregnant; that’s basic reproductive science. The question is: How will we support them? We ask that you carefully consider your role and response. Your answer and your actions will determine the future for all of us.