FEATURING: Empowering Lao adolescent girls through the Noi ecosystem

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Investing in health, well-being and empowerment of adolescents, especially adolescent girls, is a smart investment as it yields significant economic and social returns and helps in achieving sustainable socio-economic development. 

Empowering adolescent girls requires comprehensive efforts and a conducive environment as adolescent girls are not a homogeneous group and they face a wider range of risks to their health and well-being including lack of education, gender based discrimination and violence, malnourishment, sexual exploitation, early, child and forced marriage and adolescent pregnancy. 

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in collaboration with the Lao government and other stakeholders launched the Noi approach in 2016 to raise awareness of adolescent issues and increase investments in over 700,000 adolescent girls in Laos through multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder partnerships.

Since then, UNFPA and its partners have been working to implement the Noi ecosystem with interlinked components focusing on strengthening supply side systems as well as improving the voice and awareness on the demand side.

As part of the Noi ecosystem efforts for strengthening policy and legal environment, support was provided to the Lao Youth Union to develop the first ever national youth and adolescent policy. The draft policy has been finalised and is awaiting final approval. Support was also extended for revising the national population and development policy, national sexual and reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health policy as well as for developing a national youth law and national gender equity law.

Comprehensive sexuality education has been introduced in primary, secondary and technical and vocational education. Some 110 teachers from all five districts of Bokeo province were trained and are delivering comprehensive sexuality education to 25,000 students in 45 secondary schools.

The curriculum covers gender, life skills, relationships, child rights, sexual reproductive health, contraception and prevention of substance misuse, while integrating them with the subjects of civic education, biology and safe use of social media. Thirty teachers from Bokeo TVET college were trained and are delivering comprehensive sexuality education to 900 students. The revised primary curriculum with integrated life skills topics will cover around 400,000 primary students in the coming years.

To improve the provision of adolescents with youth-friendly health services, 290 healthcare providers from Bokeo, Savannakhet and Borikhamxay provinces have been trained and are providing reproductive health information and services to around 435,000 adolescents and young people. Additionally, 187 employees from four factories and 52 peer educators were trained in reproductive and sexual health, which resulted in 426 factory workers accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare services. Over 8,000 adolescents and young people participated in outreach activities by the trained healthcare providers.

Six hundred adolescent girls from 29 villages in Xepon and Pha-oudom districts of Savannakhet and Bokeo provinces enhanced their health, social, economic and cognitive skills through 60 mentors in Nang-Noi Girls Groups. Over 6,000 parents and adolescent boys were also sensitised on reproductive and sexual health and the rights of adolescent girls through village level awareness campaigns and participatory activities.

Two women-friendly spaces established in temporary shelters in Sanamxay district, Attapeu province, provided essential services to 2,000 people affected by floods. Fifty representatives from the health, social, police and justice sectors came together in Vientiane and discussed adapting the essential service package in the Lao context for improving the quality of health, social and justice services for the victims and survivors of various forms of violence.

A situation analysis was conducted in five districts of Savannakhet province, namely Xepon, Nong, Vilabouly, Phin and Thapangthong, to understand the ground realities faced by adolescent girls and boys.

An adolescent research day was organised in Vientiane which brought 200 researchers and practitioners to discuss gender equality among adolescents and ways forward for addressing gender disparities among adolescent boys and girls.

An adolescent girls working group with 28 members from UN agencies, iNGOs and CSOs continued joint advocacy through meetings and advocacy events on International Day of the Girl Child and International Youth Day.

Three new partnerships were started with Sinouk Coffee, Banque Franco-Lao and China Radio International to raise awareness and encourage more investment in reproductive and sexual health, financial literacy and empowerment of adolescent girls.

A new campaign ‘Me, My Body, My Planet, My Future’ was initiated to encourage young people to take steps to advance the Sustainable Development Goals regarding health and well-being, climate change, and gender equality. Over 9,000 adolescents and young people have been engaged through this campaign.