From October 23rd to October 25th, our (UYAHF) Advocacy and Campaigns officer and the Power To Youth program coordinator, Ms. Nakyegera Norah, joined other young people in all their diversities at the Birchwood Hotel & OR Tambo conference center in South Africa for the MenEngage Africa SRHR Learning and Exchange Symposium.

The symposium had several panel discussions such as strategies for effective advocacy and amplifying impact, youth accountability in SRHR policies and education initiatives, principles of meaningful youth engagement and participation, break-out workshops on topics such as empowering youth for change and beyond abuse, digital CSE, and ethical engagement of youth within youth-led SRHR advocacy learning opportunities through sharing success stories and best practices.

The three-day event provided a unique opportunity to bring critical attention to adolescent and young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Africa. In a region where harmful traditional practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriage continue to violate the rights of girls and young women and cause lasting health consequences.  It was a timely reminder for the young people to understand the magnitude of the several SRHR challenges faced in other African countries and jointly forge recommendations on how to achieve lasting and widespread change.

During the several discussions at the informative symposium, it was evident that many African countries don’t have Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) policies, which explains the existing opposition on the matter even though the available data speaks to the need and urgency of having these policies in place.

“For the opposition to be managed, advocates need to desist from always speaking to what CSE isn’t whenever a media opportunity is presented to them and rather speak to what it is so that people within our communities get to appreciate its importance,’’ said Mr. Bafana Khumalo, the co-executive director of Sonke Gender Justice.

He adds that young people need to be vigilant when it comes to capturing data that speaks to the issues that affect them, such as child marriages, FGM, and HIV new infections among adolescents and young people, among others, noting that it is the only way advocacy will be effective since statistics are in place to back up their advocacy processes.

The symposium provided a safe space for the young people to provide an independent account of the progress made in improving SRHR services within their countries since they have been able to document some of the barriers and challenges that continue to prevent the full realization of SRHR.

At the conclusion of the symposium, an outcome document was developed by the young people, entailing recommendations and a call to action, as a critical step in ensuring accountability for the implementation of global commitments.