New study: adolescent girls and young women want smarter digital sexual and reproductive health resources and services

As people and health systems around the world are increasingly relying on digital platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic, Women Deliver and Girl Effect release new research conducted by Girl Effect's girl researchers - TEGAs (Technology Enabled Girl Ambassadors) - in India, Malawi and Rwanda. The project explored the barriers and opportunities of digital technology in improving adolescent girls’ and young women’s access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) information.

Young people were meaningfully engaged throughout the research process. Women Deliver and Girl Effect worked with young people, including Women Deliver Young Leaders and Girl Effect’s TEGA researchers, to shape the research questions, collect the data, discuss the results, and generate recommendations. 

Commenting on the importance of involving young people in the design of services, Shweta, a 19 year old TEGA from Jaipur in India, said: "I have learnt the importance of facilitating people to express their opinions and thoughts through TEGA. It has made me independent and confident. It is a great way to understand the way young people think as the interviewer and interviewee share common features and the conversation flows freely. It is important to involve young people as they understand their problems like no one else and have ideas for how to solve them. They are curious and confident and capable of doing anything." 

Findings revealed that overall, adolescent girls and young women are turning to digital platforms as a one-stop shop, where they look for information about their bodies, their health, and their relationships. However, they reported that they do not act on the digital information they find, partly due to a lack of trust in its credibility. Additionally, stigma and socio-cultural norms impact how adolescent girls and young women talk about and access SRHR information and services.

Isabel Quilter, who led the Girl Effect research team, said: "We can’t assume what young people's needs are - mobile technology gives us the ability to bring young people into the conversation, listen to their solutions and improve services for them. Our TEGA methodology enables researchers aged 18-24 to capture fast, accurate, and authentic insights into the lives and experiences of their peers. During this project, TEGAs co-created the survey questions, collected the data through interviews with girls and young women, hosted workshops with respondents to validate findings and worked with them to shape recommendations.”

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Going online - results summary

Take a look at this film which gives an overview of the project and the findings.

This research outlines a compelling case for increased meaningful engagement of young people in the development, design, and implementation of digital health services and resources. To harness the power of digital platforms to improve adolescent girls’ and young women’s SRHR, governments, policymakers, civil society, content and application developers, and donors — working meaningfully alongside young people — should commit to: 

  1. Accurate and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights information online; 
  2. Strengthening connections between online sexual and reproductive health and rights information and youth-friendly medical and community services;
  3. Creating meaningful opportunities for young people to design, test, and implement digital SRHR programs and platforms; 
  4. Implementing digital literacy education in and out of schools so adolescent girls and young women feel confident in identifying reputable sources of SRHR information privately, and
  5. Increased investments in gender equality, including the support of comprehensive sexuality education, which can foster an environment where all people can learn about their SRHR and access services.
  6. Increased investments in gender equality, including the support of comprehensive sexuality education, which can foster an environment where all people can learn about their SRHR and access services. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic caused a dramatic shift in how all people access and receive healthcare, which is why it's more critical than ever that accurate and reliable digital resources and services take into account the unique needs and expertise of adolescent girls and young women who are too frequently left behind in health systems,” said Divya Mathew, Sr. Manager, Research, Policy and Advocacy at Women Deliver. “Digital platforms must be co-created and implemented by young people to equip them with tools and information to protect their health, and we must also foster enabling environments where stigma and harmful norms aren't barriers to good health.”

To learn more about the report and the country-specific findings, read the full report here.

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