Young People Should Lead SRHR Conversation From The Front- Dr Mushunje

Sexual Reproductive Health Rights Africa Trust  (SAT) Country Director, Dr Mildred Mushunje has called on youths across the country to be active participants concerning issues affecting their Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) if tangible results are to be realized.

By Michael Gwarisa

Speaking during an Intergenerational conversation on Meaningful Youth participation in commemoration of the International Youth Day live on Capitalk FM, Dr Mushunje said no one was qualified to talk about issues affecting young people more than the young people themselves.

We realized that more often than not, we talk about young people, we talk about young people’s needs but I think we don’t give young people enough space to express themselves, we tend to speak on their behalf.

“The reason why we are having this conversation is because today is the International Youth Day and we made a decision that we were  going to dedicate this day to carry the voices of young people.  In terms of increasing youth participation, we try and make sure that they at least participate in our programs and we ensure that it is their voices, it is their agenda, they set the tone of what it is they need to be done and we come to support them and we become the anchor on which they can safely stand,” said Dr Mushunje.

She added that they have created SAT Youth Hubs which are safe spaces where young people share experiences and ideas as well as find solutions to their problems and SAT comes through to support the ideas through resource mobilization to expand and develop ideas further.

“We are always saying that culture changes and culture is dynamic, so it should change to respond to the emerging issues. I know one or two generations ago; you would have a situation whereby young people would not be allowed to converse with their adults but now we are saying that these people have their own minds and they have their own opinions and should be able to speak and we should make efforts to speak with them.

“So when we don’t have conversations with young people, that’s when you see some tensions. Our focus is trying to make sure that we create the space without antagonising any particular group. We are just saying these young people have voices and we should give them the space.”

Young people in Zimbabwe for a long time have been struggling to access various health services such as contraceptives, sanitary ware, HIV counselling and treatment among other services especially under the prevailing COVID-19 induced lockdown owing to strict restrictions.

Trevor Nyakudya (25) who is also a SAT Youth Hub member said youths need targeted SRHR solutions since they are not a homogeneous group to ensure meaningful youth participation in making decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and other issues.

“There can never be anything done for me without my participation. If you look closely, we have in Zimbabwe one of the highest prevalence of HIV, we also have very high rates of Early Unintended Pregnancies (EUPs).

“I can’t talk to my mom about sex, my sister can’t talk to my dad about sex.  We need therefore to have a culture where sex is not taboo and that can only be done if we sit down agree on issues. There is a need for dialogue and this dialogue should not be unidirectional but should be done between two people communicating at the same level,” said Trevor.

He however noted that the generational differences were making it difficult for young people to discuss SRHR issues with elderly and called on organizations to create platforms where intergenerational conversations and parent to child communication can be held.

Siatra Msandu (22) said there were numerous obstacles hindering access to essential services for young people which include culture, religion among others.

“Meaningful youth participation for me is whereby young people are actively involved in the decision-making processes on issues affecting them. We need to participate with adults at an equal level and make decisions on issues affecting us.

“When it comes to being a young person, some of these spaces have a lot of barriers where expressing issues such as SRH are something that one cannot do because of culture and religious beliefs. It makes it difficult to engage in open discussions on issues affecting us,” said Siatra.

Meanwhile, Yeukai Chuma, a researcher and coordinator for SRH and AIDS with the Parliament of Zimbabwe said youth representation in key decision-making positions in Zimbabwe was still very low.

“Indeed, young people are marginalized, there is a lack of representation and we are not an exception. It’s there in the parliament of Zimbabwe as well. If you look the world over according to the inter-parliamentary union, only 26% of Members of Parliament (MPs) are young people if you are looking at ages 20-44.

“But if you go below 30, we are talking of 1%, in our own parliament I think we have less than 1% of MPs that are young people. A lot is being done but my main message to the young is that you need to liberate yourself from the tradition, norms and values that result in the marginalization of the young people,” said Chuma.

Lungani Zwangobani from the Zimbabwe Youth Council (ZYC) said they provide various platforms for young people to participate in decision making as well as communicate with the government without facing any hurdles.

“We have the Junior Parliament and we have a number of young people who are already in politics. So these are some of the platforms that we are providing for young people to participate in decision making at community level and national level.

“Young people need to speak with decision makers on issues concerning them. ZYC is decentralized to all the provinces to ensure every person has access to programs. However, we are not yet decentralized in the district so you find that It is true, some young people may not be represented and hence  uninvolved ,” said Lungani.

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