The Students and Youth Conference on Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) Conference which attracted over 350 delegates from eight Southern African countries came to an end with a declaration from young people which will map the way forward in the regional plan of curbing sexual and reproductive health challenges. The conference had a packed programme which this article will attempt to review.
The main outcome of the conference was a communique which was handed by the ICASA president, Dr Ihab Ahmed Abdelrahman to SAYWHAT. Moving forward Southern Africa has committed itself to these six things:
- Prevent stigma and discrimination with a specific focus on: young girls affected by child marriage, HIV, sexual activity, sexual orientation and people living with disabilities in Southern Africa.
- Hold governments in the Southern African Region accountable for the delivery, availability and scope of youth friendly SRH programs and the implementation of laws and policies related to SRH and HIV.
- Spearheading programs on demand creation and uptake of sign language courses, BC Communication by learning sign language and developing disability friendly SRH information and services in the Southern African Region.
- Strengthening structures that coordinate, empower and expose all the youth to opportunities, resources and skills on SRH in the Southern African Region.
- Ensuring young people’s access to information on policies supporting access to SRH services and information including on condom education in the Southern African Region.
- Ensuring provision of adequate SRH commodities including safe contraceptives for young people in the Southern African Region.
Young people attending the conference also called upon governments in the region to harmonise and disseminate laws on sexual and reproductive health, create a SADC fund for research, programming and implementation of SRH policies, enforce comprehensive sexuality education in schools and ensure universality of material and services to cater for all youth including youth with a disability.
Students and youth also requested for the provision of comprehensive, gender sensitive, youth friendly health services, including access to safe contraceptive options for young people, more specifically for underserved youth, reintegration of young people on the streets, exploring of new multi-purpose technologies on SRH as well as commissioning of SRH programmes that target and promote the role of religious & traditional leaders and parents/guardians in youth SRHR programming.
It is my hope and that of all young people in the Southern region that when youths converge again in 2016 for this conference, governments in this region in partnership with youth organisations will have taken steps to deal with young people sexual health grievances cited above.
Prior to the main conference, on the 27th of August, the Future Leaders Debate Competition and Web for life Activities were held. The debate competition discussed the relevance of the realisation of SRHR to democracy.
Young people from universities in Southern Africa debated on these issues and explored how the realisation of health rights by governments transcends to economic viability which in turn is a key ingredient for democracy. The University of Zambia took the first prize while SAYWHAT which represents institutions of higher learning in Zimbabwe took the second prize.
Concurrently the Web for Life was held and here young women converged to set their agenda on SRH advocacy. Through the Young Women Feminists programme, the web for life created a consortium that going forward will ensure mainstreaming of feminist perspectives on SRHR issues. A dinner held during the conference was graced by Hope Chigagudu and Grace Chirenje. Women were encouraged to be true to themselves, unite and work hard for their advocacy to bear fruit.
The Opening Ceremony
The Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr David Parirenyatwa was the key note speaker at this inaugural conference. He affirmed governments’ commitment to prioritising the sexual and reproductive health issues of young people who he identified as a key population.
“Government is committed to ensuring that young peoples’ sexual and reproductive health issues are prioritised,” Dr Parirenyatwa said. “Young people together with truck drivers, prisoners and commercial sex workers are key populations in Zimbabwe in the fight against HIV and Aids,” he added.
Youth Perspectives on SRH programming in Southern Africa
Young people spoke on the issue of access on SRH services which according to Bolivia Jeremiah, the Founder and Director of Brand You Africa, translate to affordability, accessibility, availability and accommodation. She added that only 43% of young people (15-24yrs) in Botswana have comprehensive knowledge on HIV, citing that information and skills building have a gap.
The different tracks at the conference also focused largely on advocacy, improving access to contraceptive services, assessment of SRH programmes and interventions targeting young people with different physical, sensory and mental impairments. Another track discussion focused on the role of young men in modern day societies-their opportunities and challenges in the elimination of violence against women. The last track on the second day of the conference sought to understand the policy, economic and health impacts of child marriage in the region.
This inaugural conference proved to be a platform that was important in ensuring critical conversations on the SRH needs of young people. It was a huge success and if its outcomes are implemented speedily, Africa will spearhead the realisation of the post 2015 sustainable development goals through wellness which has the ability to impact on economic growth.