Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, communities across the world have faced acute hardships. With restrictions and long and repeated lockdowns, we have seen increased rates of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). We saw some countries divert resources from sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services to combat the virus and witnessed some governments’ strategic use of the pandemic to curtail access to SRH services. And we know that women and adolescent girls in all their diversity have been disproportionately affected by the strains on health systems and social systems brought on by this pandemic.
One of the biggest problems in tackling the pandemic has been people’s inability to identify trusted sources of information in the digital space, or access evidence and rights-based information in language or formats which are easy for them to understand and apply to their own context. In the digital space, misinformation and disinformation spread just like the virus, fuelling the pandemic.
Engaging online SRHR content & information
In response to these challenges, Global Affairs Canada provided funding to MSI Reproductive Choices, International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and RNW Media to fortify women’s access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) over 12 months. Specifically, RNW Media was tasked with harnessing the power of the Love Matters and SRHR digital platforms and expanding digital access to fact-based SRHR information to vulnerable women and young people. During this project, Love Matters platforms in DRC, Kenya, Nigeria and Manasati30 in Yemen created inclusive content on SRHR including how to access essential reproductive health services, gender-based violence support and combatted misinformation on COVID-19. They ran campaigns to raise awareness on issues of gender-based violence and provided access to online (human, not bot) moderators who responded to questions, provided counselling and linked young women with MSI contact centres and IPPF service providers via the digital platforms.
Through the efforts of Love Matters Naija, Love Matters Kenya, Amour Afrique Congo and Manasati30 in Yemen, combined they reached around 3.2 million people, many of whom are young women. The inclusive, youth-friendly, fact-based content on SRHR topics was viewed almost 67.5 million times on the different platforms, demonstrating the high demand for information from a trusted source in countries where such information is often censored, taboo or unavailable.
One of the most important outcomes was building the bridge between a community of young people on digital platforms and ensuring they are informed on where to find in-person SRH services. A referral structure was built, creating awareness around SRH services and referring young people to those services when needed. In Nigeria, Kenya and Yemen, referral strategies were developed and referral webpages were launched. This resulted in over 21.000 unique visitors and 45.000 views of the referral webpages, showing an interactive location-based referral service map using GPS, informing on specific content details of services. In Nigeria, MSI reported that 1046 young people were referred to their services by Love Matters Naija in less than six months. The partnership with MSI in Nigeria, Kenya and DRC was essential to create the link with SRH services. While Manasati30 in Yemen, mapped over 450 SRH services and centres, from psychological, to legal – the only local website in Yemen that provides access to user-friendly, comprehensive provider information. In just a few months, the site saw over 6,000 visits from 4,000 people.
Young women and adolescent girls who may not have access to mobile technology were also reached through this project. In Nigeria, Love Matters Naija and MSI used 21 Saturday morning call-in radio programmes to reach over 20 million listeners tuning in for youth-friendly discussions on topics like love, relationships and SRH.
RNW Media also provided training and coaching to MSI staff in DRC, Kenya, Yemen and Nigeria, and IPPF staff in Bangladesh, Ghana, and Philippines. The training focused on how to develop and use effective digital campaigns for social change, in order to reach and engage more young people on SRHR topics. As an example, the training for the Philippines team focused on producing a campaign to support their efforts to access essential reproductive health services in their country.
The grant provided by GAC allowed RNW Media and its partners to continue their efforts to provide access to reliable SRHR information during a time when young people faced additional barriers to access health services and information due to COVID-19 measures. The project made it possible to develop a digital referral structure, adjust content and engagement strategies and develop “green” (sustainable) content that can continue to be used well after the project period ends.
Above all the partnership with MSI and IPPF gave new inspiration and possibilities to strengthen the linkage between young people in digital communities and SRHR services to ensure young people are aware and have the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about SRHR in their personal lives and have access to youth-friendly SRHR services. The country partners have established linkages with other SRH service providers, to ensure that young people, especially young women are aware of what SRH services are available near them. RNW Media will continue to further build the partnership with MSI and IPPF to strengthen digital platforms to reach more young people with essential SRHR information.