Guyana has the second highest rate of adolescent pregnancy in the entire Western Hemisphere, and this reality means that women’s health is in a terrible crisis.International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region Youth Director Kobe Smith speaking at the Women Deliver 2019 conferenceThis is according to International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region, Youth Director Kobe Smith, who in quoting from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) statistics on Guyana, said that it was estimated that 97 out of every 1000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 would give birth.Smith made the comment during a plenary discussion on “The Power of Stories: making sexual and reproductive health and rights come to life” at the Women Deliver 2019 conference in Vancouver, Canada. The youth leader, who is pursuing a degree in law at the University of Guyana, told the gathering of hundreds of women that something must be done to reduce and eventually curb the high rate of adolescent pregnancy.He noted that teen pregnancy, gender-based violence and family planning are all seen as women issues “but to think of it, who got the 14-year-old girl pregnant? Who waits at bus terminals to strip women of their dignity and their rights and sexually harass them? Who forces a young woman to carry through with an unplanned pregnancy against her will? Yes, men; men do,” he said.Smith noted that he believed that men would play a critical role in achieving gender equality, because in some cases, sadly, they hold the power in homes, in courts, in Parliaments and other dominant decision-making places in society. He added that some of the clearest pieces of evidence which demonstrate the recent attacks on reproductive justice for women and girls are seen in the restrictive ban on abortions in several states in the United States of America.Meanwhile, coming from a family history of gender-based violence and adolescent pregnancy, the young leader said that he never imagined that he would join the Board of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, as a teenager, adding too that he never imagined that he would be fighting for the rights of women and girls, but that all changed after his mother lost her battle with cancer a few years ago.Breaking down in tears before a packed conference hall, Smith added that he believed that he has a responsibility and a debt of service to pay not just for his mother but for girls who do not have the resources, the finances, and the access to the services to help them in this critical area.“To talk about sexual reproductive health rights and services, I believe that comprehensive sexuality education is an important tool to engage men and boys in gender equality and sexual reproductive rights,” he said.Speaking about his experience in Guyana, Smith added that while working with young people in Georgetown on gender-based violence, he experienced a most shocking response from a young teen. Recalling his experience, Smith told the gathering that during one of his workshops, a teen bluntly told him that if women misbehaved, they needed to “get it”, referring to being hit as a means of discipline. Clearly horrified by the teen’s response, Smith said he then asked the young man if he was at home and his mother “misbehaved”, then what should happen? He noted that again his response was that she too should “get it”.“…but at the end of that session change occurred … because one of his colleagues revealed during the session that she was sexually and emotionally abused and when she burst into tears – the same young man stood up and said to her “everything gon be alright” and at that point I felt hopeful and satisfied and optimistic that he would become an ally and also influence other peers to become allies for issues in gender equality,” Smith noted.Speaking about his personal exposure to comprehensive sexual education, the youth leader said that most of his knowledge came from the media and, unfortunately, his friends, who just did not know better.”…and I, like so many others, viewed adolescent pregnancy as the fault of the young girls because they didn’t know better but to be quite honest we were the ones that didn’t know better and the school system in Guyana did not allow us to know better,” he told the gathering.Smith added that they must challenge the restrictive gender norms that affect women and girls. “We must empower them with the education on sexual and reproductive health information and services to ensure that they lead positive healthy lives,” he said.He further added that he wanted to use his power to ensure that men and boys in Guyana were allies for gender equality in order for there to be a gender equal world.Women Deliver is a leading global advocate that champions gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women.