Despite a progressive legal and policy environment which should facilitate young people’s autonomous access to high quality sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) information, education and health services – much remains to be achieved in protecting, promoting and realising the SRHR of every adolescent and young person in South Africa. The country’s youth continues to experience high rates of sexual violence, HIV infection, sexually-transmitted diseases, and unwanted pregnancies.
In view of this, a group of organisations and institutions have come together since 2020 to form an Action Coalition on SRHR under the Generation Equality Forum (GEF). With France taking a leading role in this issue globally, global, the French Embassy in South Africa has actively contributed to the collective mobilisation in South Africa.
Together with partners from the SRHR Action Coalition, the Embassy co-hosted a virtual dialogue “Youth Voices on SRHR: From Commitment to Action” on 14 September 2021.
The event brought together policy makers, young people and experts to reflect on the progress and challenges in terms of youth SRHR. The aim was to encourage all stakeholders to recommit to advancing the implementation of adolescents and youth-friendly SRHR across the health and social services systems in South Africa.
The event opened with a keynote address by Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, who spoke of the centrality of SRHR for the health of young people.
This was followed by a short overview of an Evidence Brief on “Young People’s Access and Barriers to SRHR Services in South Africa” developed by the GEF Action Coalition, as way of introduction to set the stage of the panel discussion.
During the panel discussion, youth activists working on SRHR and representatives from the departments of Social Development, Basic Education and Health, considered the actions which can be taken at the policy level, at service level and at the societal level, to address barriers to youth access to SRHR. This includes multi-sectoral and friendly services free of charge, Comprehensive Sexuality Education, as well as increased awareness on young people’s bodily autonomy and the rights to agency and consent.
The discussion saw interventions from the following panellists on the government side: Khethani Hlongwa, Director: Social Policy Research at the Department of Social Development; Managa Pillay, National Technical Specialist at the Department of Basic Education; and Gertrude Matshimane, National Youth Programs Manager at the Department of Health.
The youth panellists included Hlobisile Inamandla Masinga, Founder & Chairperson of The Pink Roses Foundation; Saidy Brown, 25×25 Young Leader at SheDecides; Yolokazi Mfuto, Youth SRHR Activist; Koketso Rathumbu, National AGYW Ambassador for the South African National Aids Council (SANAC); and Nthabiseng Mogashoa, a member of Partners in Sexual Health.
The closing remarks were delivered by Zane Dangor, Special Adviser to the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, and Levi Singh from the SRHR Africa Trust.
I you missed the virtual dialogue, you can watch the replay here:
Leveraging the momentum from GEF and President Ramaphosa’s commitments to gender equality, this SRHR dialogue feeds into the crafting of the country’s national priorities towards a five-year acceleration plan. The main outcomes of the SRHR Action Coalition engagements since 2020, and recommendations emerging from them, include:
- The GEF has allowed to date to bring together a core group of organisations and individuals under the SRHR Action Coalition, committed to working together to take the issue forward and foster an ambitious action agenda in South Africa.
The SRHR Action Coalition comprises mostly of (youth) civil society organisations working in that space – SRHR Africa Trust (SAT), SANAC, Teddy Bear Foundation, Section27, Access Chapter 2, Partners in Sexual Health – but also a representative of the national Department of Social Development, as well as UN institutions (UNFPA, UN Women) and the French Embassy.
It is therefore a valuable platform for coordination and collective engagement, and it will be important to identify ways to allow this group to continue its work and expand.
However, involvement of the relevant Departments at national and provincial levels (Health, Social Development, Basic Education) will be required if this multi-stakeholder coalition is to be able to effectively push policies and actions on SRHR for youth, and allow for meaningful dialogue and concertation between all relevant stakeholders; lest it will become (yet another) civil society coalition on SRHR, offering uncertain added value to existing initiatives. Lack of active participation and commitment from the authorities is likely to result in disengagement from current Action Coalition participants.
- The activation event gave an opportunity to interact with department representatives, and to provide a platform for young voices to come together and be heard.
- The Evidence Brief has highlighted a number of key barriers to, and areas for improvement of youth access to SRHR services. These findings were supported by some of the remarks and recommendations presented by the youth panellists during the virtual dialogue. They offer a basis on for future engagements and for setting an ambitious action agenda driven by the youth and relevant to their needs.
Visit: https://forum.generationequality.org/ for more information on the Generation Equality Forum and the objectives and global commitments of the Bodily Autonomy and SRHR Action Coalition.
The Generation Equality Forum (GEF) is a global gathering to accelerate gender equality actions and marks the 26th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.