DSW: Supporting Women and Youth in East Africa

Across four countries in East Africa, Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW) are supporting young women with education and project work.

We, here at Youth Time, continue our journey of highlighting organisations working for young people with Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW), an advocacy organisation that works and implements projects to empower youth in four east African countries: Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya.

With its headquarters in Hannover, and liaison offices in Berlin and Brussels, DSW also advocates for investment in research and innovation to fight poverty-related and neglected tropical diseases, and engages in gender sensitive advocacy, capacity development, and family planning initiatives.

As DSW celebrates its 30th anniversary, Angela Bähr, Director Projects & Programmes, Vice Executive Director, speaks to Youth Time about their work, and how they continue to address the needs and potential of the largest youth generation in history.

Recalling that worldwide, one in four women of reproductive age who want to use contraception have an unmet need for it – in sub-Saharan Africa it is one in two, this piece also highlights the work of DSW for gender equality and women’s right to healthcare.

To date, DSW has trained over 40,000 peer educators in life skills, leadership, management, and reproductive health. In 2019 alone, DSW worked with 228 youth clubs and 49 higher-level youth development centres in these four countries.

The peer educators pass on their knowledge to their peers and encourage an informed exchange about sexuality, puberty, contraception, HIV and AIDS, and gender issues. 

This is just one way DSW’s helping hand reaches people and improves communities. 

Let’s dig deeper. 


Women’s Rights as Part of the Agenda 

Since the Foundation was founded in 1991, DSW has worked with young people living in countries affected by extreme poverty in order to secure their access to sexual and reproductive health and rights information, services, and supplies. 

“We believe this is essential in helping the generation of today (and tomorrow!) achieve their full potential.”

One of the key milestones for their work was the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo in 1994. 

This was an extremely important event as it not only talked about demographic targets, as previous, similar conferences had done – but about the people themselves. It focused on issues such as family planning and women’s education, among others. 

“It was not only an important event for DSW’s work but also a key change for the entire world as it placed the rights of women on the agenda in deciding for themselves if, when and how many children to have.” 


Women’s Right to Healthcare

Unfortunately, even today over 200 million women still do not have access to the contraceptives of their choice. 

DSW works to decrease this number, and empower women. 

“It is more important now than ever that DSW continues to campaign for access to self-determined family planning for everyone. 

“All youth should be able to live self-determined lives, and a big part of this is being able to choose if, when and who to marry, and if, when and how many children to have.”

Even after 25 years of ICPD, gender inequality in sexual and reproductive health is still present. 

UNFPA’s 2021 State of World Population report, conveyed that just over half of women aged 15 to 49 years in developing countries make their own decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health and rights, including deciding on their own health care; deciding on the use of contraception; and being able to say no to sex. 

“This is an alarming statistic but one which motivates DSW to continue to campaign for young people’s, and especially young women’s, right to bodily autonomy. 

“Through our projects we train both young men and women on having control over their own sexual and reproductive health.”

According to Bähr, a big change that DSW has seen is that a dialogue has been opened on topics such as sexuality, contraception and menstruation health and hygiene in schools where DSW runs its projects. 

“Young people are educated about unintended teenage pregnancies and how to access contraception so that they can decide if to have children. 

“They can openly talk about these prevalent issues in school and at home with their parents.”


Choosing Your Future

DSW is committed to creating a demand for and access to health information, services, supplies, and economic empowerment for youth. 

Let’s see how this is going and why youth enjoying these goods benefits the society.

“Providing young people, especially young women and girls, with age-appropriate information about contraception and family planning gives them the chance to choose if and when to become parents.

“Everyone should have access to this right and DSW is passionate about trying to ensure a future where everyone can make that choice for themselves.” 

DSW Supporting Women and Youth in East Africa
Big Numbers: DSW have supported thousands of women and young people in their 30 years

In many places, girls who become pregnant in their teenage years may not return to school, resulting in the girl’s education ending prematurely. Education is invaluable for individuals but also for societies. 

“Confident communication about sexuality education takes place mainly within the youth’s own age group, which is why the peer-to-peer approach is so successful. 

“Gender equality within the youth clubs and peer training is very important to DSW so we are proud that over half of all our youth club leaders in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, are women.”

For DSW, it is not only important to conduct projects that help to benefit east African youth, but to also give young people themselves an opportunity to have their voices heard on an international level.  

For more information on DSW youth champions, visit DSW’s blog here.


Strengthening Youth Organisations in East Africa 

One ongoing project that is being implemented in both Kenya and Tanzania at the moment is the Strengthening Local Advocacy Leadership in East Africa (SLALE) project. 

“It is a project that aims to enable youth-focused and youth-led civil society organisations (CSOs) in both countries to implement effective and coordinated family planning and reproductive health advocacy.”

During the project’s four-year duration, twelve youth-focused CSOs – the SLALE Allies – are being engaged and enabled to implement family planning and reproductive health advocacy on the sub-national and national level. 

The overarching goal of SLALE is to contribute to improved family planning and reproductive health outcomes in both Kenya and Tanzania, which will directly benefit the youth in the communities.


Educate Against Female Genital Mutilation 

Worldwide, approximately 200 million women and girls have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). In Tanzania, approximately one in 10 young women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been subjected to the harmful practice. 

Another very important project related to the improvement of women and girl’s sexual and reproductive health (SRH) is DSW’s Project to Educate Against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which is being carried out in Tanzania. 

“The DSW project focuses on empowering female adolescents who have been subjected to genital mutilation or those who are at high risk of being forced to undergo it.” 

The aim of the project is to put an end to this harmful practice and to strengthen the rights of girls aged 14 to 24. Click here for more.


Easing the Challenges

DSW experience shows that youth in east Africa today have an unmet need for contraception and family planning services. 

Out of 51 million women of reproductive age in east Africa, 19 million of them have an unmet need for modern contraception. 

DSW is there to ease these challenges. 

“One way in which DSW tries to ensure that young people receive age-appropriate information on contraception and family planning, even in remote areas, is through its Youth Truck, which has been implemented by DSW since 2003.” 

The Youth Truck brings health services and knowledge about sexuality and contraception to remote areas in order to reach those who need it most – the young people. 

DSW works with youth clubs and youth empowerment centres in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania to provide young people with this information.

DSW also helps young people in sexual and reproductive health, through referral systems at youth friendly health centres. 

Another challenge that young people face is the stigma and taboo that surrounds sexual and reproductive health issues. 

“Youth rarely felt comfortable talking to their parents or other adults about issues relating to their sexual and reproductive health. That is why DSW focuses on a peer-to-peer dissemination of information.”

Many of DSW’s projects depend on donations from private donors–and you can donate online here.

“Every donation makes a difference. DSW is also a registered organisation with Amazon Smile. 0.5 percent of eligible purchases on Amazon Smile can be donated to DSW, if you select DSW as the organisation you want to donate to, at no extra cost to you.”

Follow DSW to stay updated with its fantastic work: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.

Pictures: DSW/Brian Otieno

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