Beyond Tokenism: addressing privilege in the recruitment of young leaders in SRHR



In the realm of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), there is an unsettling trend that cannot be ignored. While the mission of global SRHR organizations is, in theory, to advocate for the well-being and empowerment of all individuals, there is a disconcerting pattern emerging in the recruitment practices of these organizations. They seem to gravitate towards selecting young leaders from a limited and privileged pool – one that is predominantly educated, urban, and, dare we say, elite. This exclusivity inadvertently excludes marginalized youth from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds, perpetuating a cycle of inequality and limiting the potential impact of these organizations. This begs the question:
Are SRHR organizations truly working towards inclusive change, or are they inadvertently reinforcing the existing power structures? 

In our third Action Learning Cycle: Finding, Engaging & Sustaining New Generations of Youth Leaders we’ve brought together representatives from seven organisations, located in different parts of the globe, to tackle this challenge. The topic of priority from this cycle draws from the YIELD research findings which emphasise the need for youth leaders from underserved communities to participate in- and benefit from- the Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (AYSRHR) field. SRHR are fundamental human rights that every individual should have access to, regardless of their background. 

In order to ensure inclusivity, it is imperative for SRHR organisations to intentionally seek out and recruit youth from diverse identity groups and socio-cultural contexts, allowing for a comprehensive and representative approach to tackling the challenges and complexities of SRHR. Our third Action Learning cycle has brought together organisations who share this vision and actively seek to implement it.

“While there is great effort to engage young people, some end up being favoured for different reasons. Maybe a privileged background, higher level of education, soft skills, responsiveness, webinar attendances, willingness to speak at events, and so on.”  

[CYCLE 3 member]

How are organisations engaging & sustaining youth leaders?

Recruitment: while some organisations struggle to find “the right set of young people” to employ, others have surpassed this challenge by finding and capacitating youth from the same marginalized communities where their projects/programme sites are based.
Opportunities: some organisations have noticed that although they have a global youth network in several countries, some countries favour and offer more opportunities for young people than others.
Retention: young leaders are not sustained in the programmes and projects they work in, and organisations often lose them along the way. This consequently affects the intended impact of programmes in the long run. 
Collaboration: organisations have found partnership and collaboration with youth-based or student-run organisations to be a useful way to find and work with young people.

What does the SRHR field need to do and learn around this topic?

The group was challenged to think deeper about the topic at a sectoral scale because development and progress can only occur when an entire community and network of actors can collectively contribute to initiating change. The following results came from the group reflections: 
What the field needs to do…What the field needs to learn…
Organisations need accountability mechanisms that can help them stay the course of equitable youth partnerships.How to avoid tokenistic participation of youth.
Donors and funders should support the generation of scientific evidence so that the approaches can easily be replicated.How to identify young people passionate about SRHR & involve them meaningfully.
Organisations must be conscious of the methods and platforms they use to reach out to or engage with young people because they may be limitations to access.Beyond the digital divide, what are the other potential barriers to entry for people in the SRHR space?
Create a space for diverse young people to be valued and have their experiences and ideas incorporated in decision making processes.How to avoid the challenges faced in integrating youth perspectives.

At the YIELD Hub, we recognise that engaging and sustaining new generations of youth leaders is crucial for organizations working in the SRHR field. Their unique perspectives, advocacy skills, intergenerational collaboration, and enhanced credibility contribute to the advancement of the SRHR movement and ensure its long-term impact. Investing in youth leadership is an investment in the future health and well-being of young people globally.