In the Middle Ages, there was a Latin phrase that came to represent the idea that all public policies should be created with the full participation of everyone who’d be affected by them, even (and especially) groups generally excluded from political, social and economic opportunities.
Next week at Women Deliver 2016, this phrase—nihil de nobis, sine nobis, or “nothing about us, without us”— will be the rallying cry as hundreds of young people join world governments, NGOs, global philanthropic organizations and health practitioners at the largest conference on the health, rights and well-being of girls and women in more than a decade.
As it turns out, today’s youth are using that ancient concept to change our 21st-century local and global agendas.
What We Can Learn From the Young
While in Ethiopia visiting the Fistula Foundation, with which Johnson & Johnson has a partnership, I met a young woman named Mamar.
At 16 years old, she had suffered from obstetric fistula, a debilitating injury caused by childbirth. Four years later, surgery at the Gondar Fistula Hospital cured her, and she became a maternal health advocate with the Fistula Foundation. Now she makes house calls to inform women about available prenatal care and the importance of delivering babies in a hospital.
The program had been structured around counseling pregnant women when Mamar started working with the group. However, her vital point of feedback was that it was much too late to start advising them. “I have to visit women and girls before they are pregnant if we want to stop fistula,” she told me.
Her observation led to dramatic changes within the program, which has now widened to include education for adolescents and women of childbearing age, as well as those who are currently pregnant.
Mamar’s story is a lesson that young people can—and should—play a vital role in shaping policies and services that better meet their health needs.
How Organizations Are Stepping Up to the Challenge
Organizations at the global, regional and national level are quickly learning that they have a truly unique perspective and aren’t afraid to create change by challenging the status quo.
Groups such as the Partnership on Maternal Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) and Women Deliver deserve credit and kudos for incorporating young people into their decision-making processes. PMNCH recently established a youth working group to ensure adequate representation of youth and adolescent issues in their strategic plans for reproductive, maternal, child and adolescent health. And Women Deliver not only supports a Young Leaders Program, but also includes youth on their board.
The new Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations this past September include big strides in global health, well-being, education and gender equality; achieving them will be nearly impossible without attention to the approximately 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world.
By listening to the perspectives of the young, and by making the most of their passion and determination, we can better understand their challenges and design solutions to meet their health and economic needs as they grow into adulthood. In doing so, we will unleash the potential of the largest youth population the world has ever seen.
I am thrilled that Johnson & Johnson has partnered with Women Deliver to strengthen the leadership skills of the next generation. As we look ahead to the conference, I eagerly await the “Nothing about us, without us” call to action from young people who demand to be heard.
By working together with this new generation of advocates and leaders by our side, our collective vision for a healthier, more just world can become a reality.
Johnson & Johnson is a proud sponsor of Women Deliver. To follow our presence at this historic conference, follow us on Twitter @JNJGlobalHealth.
Joy Marini is Executive Director, Worldwide Corporate Contributions, Johnson & Johnson. She leads the company’s global philanthropy focused on improving health for women, children and adolescents, which includes programs worldwide on maternal and infant survival, child health and women’s and girls’ empowerment.