March 6, 2022
By Madeleine Moore Consultant & Technical Advisor, PSI Europe and Chelon Nickolette, Project Ignite Program Coordinator, PSI
18-year-old Mirela hesitated as she peered around the clinic’s waiting room.
Women twice her age crowded the space. As the only teenager in the room, would they judge her for turning up for contraceptive counseling? She had so many questions about how she could prevent an unplanned pregnancy, but with judgment abound, she had no trusted source to ask. What if her family – or worse yet – her community knew she were here?
And what if the provider turned her away?
For girls like Mirela, the ability to make their own decisions about their bodies and their lives is too often blocked by mounting hurdles. From hostile legal environments that prohibit contraceptive use among young people and criminalize abortion, to pervading provider biases, harmful social structures and deep gender inequalities, girls like Mirela navigate entrenched barriers to taking charge of their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
Through the PSI-led and Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs-funded Project Ignite, PSI, alongside partners, are at the forefront in responding.
Across Mozambique, Cote d’Ivoire, Haiti, India and Kenya, Project Ignite identifies and responds to market failures to deliver sustainable and effective linkages to adolescent and youth SRHR care. Since the project’s launch in 2016, 300,000+ new, adolescent and youth users – like Mirela –have voluntarily opted for contraception and nearly 500,000 continuing users have return to an Ignite service delivery point to attain a resupply of their contraceptive method of choice.
Project Ignite builds from girls’ insights to deliver solutions that respond to what girls say they want and need. The project works in tandem with girls and alongside community leaders, governments, health providers and product manufacturers to build pathways for girl-centered services, products and markets.
The result? From transforming health markets to reaching girls in some of the most challenging cultural, religious, and societal contexts through social behavior change campaigns and services that bridge SRHR care with vocational skills building, Project Ignite’s girl-centered SRHR solutions have ignited change for girls like Mirela – and beyond.
Mirela took a deep breath in, waiting for the nurse to call her in. Yes, she was nervous, but she’d shown up after seeing some of Project Ignite’s promotion in her community.
“Mirela?” the nurse called.
Her warm smile and welcoming demeanor immediately put Mirela at ease. Together, they talked about Mirela’s dreams for her future and of the tools, like contraception, that could help her to achieve her plans of finishing school. The nurse walked her through the contraceptive options and the potential side effects, like menstrual changes.
Mirela knew what she wanted to do.
She chose a method on the spot, walking out feeling strong and confident by her ability to use her voice and choice. Now, three years later, Mirela still values the supportive relationship she’s maintained with the nurse and has since discussed the value of contraception with her now boyfriend and her parents—all of whom support her decision.
And best yet, Mirela achieved her goal of finishing school.
“Choosing contraception changed my life,” Mirela said. “Without it, I would have had children early, and I would not have completed my education.”
Since 2016, Project Ignite has catalyzed impact for girls like Mirela. But the work doesn’t end here.
Project Ignite proves that when we work alongside girls to design and deliver girl-powered care, we can reach transformative solutions. And when we take it a step further by engaging rights-bearers and other partners who can impact girls’ ability to access care, we can ensure girls’ rights are upheld in their journey to care. Together, we can continue to champion programs like Project Ignite that protect and expand girls’ voices, and choices – supporting their right to making the health decisions that shape their lives.
Banner photo credit: Evelyn Hockstein