8th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights - Day One

Young researchers symposium: LGBTIQ+ communities at the center of SRHR advocacy in Africa

The Young Researchers Symposium kicked off with a vibrant flash mob demonstration yesterday. Deviating from the norm, even in the way that the speakers gave their addresses, their aim was clear – they not only wanted to be seen, they wanted to be heard. Titled “LGBTQIA+ Communities at the centre of SRHR Advocacy in Africa”, the young researchers reflected on their diverse experiences as part of tertiary institutions in rural and urban South Africa.

“We always have to ask for permission to belong to spaces. We have to ask for permission to exist, permission to belong in most spaces.” One of the speakers, Phatu, who works for the Institutional HIV/AIDS Office at the University of Johannesburg, questioned the politics of belonging for queer persons in institutions of higher learning.

Riri, a young researcher from Walter Sisulu University, reflected on her experiences of discrimination in a ‘rural’ university and called for meaningful transformation measures. She further reflected on the implications of being based in a context where ‘conservative’ outlooks fuel many myths. “A lesbian is [ thought of as] a female that has a snake that pushes them to have sex with other females” and “people make friends with gay people because they are entertaining”.

Malethabo Sedibe, an alumni of University of Venda, also called for higher education institutions in rural areas to be transformed. As an Urban Planning graduate, questioned the way bathrooms and signs were designed, and how these fuelled much discrimination and stigma against LGBTQIA+ persons.

Overall, the engagements that followed called for the creation of safe spaces for sexual and gender minorities within and outside of higher education spaces. There was a call for more advocacy in surrounding communities and encouragement for more an engagement of an intersectional and inclusive frameworks. “Create safe spaces for everyone despite one's identity.”


Innovation and education: Emerging trends in delivering SRH services and Information

In the Innovation and education: Emerging trends in delivering SRH services and Information session, delegates noted that, in Egypt, access to family planning services is primarily reserved for married women. In this case, data from the National Demographic and Health Survey relating to the uptake of family planning services is only collected from married women. The language surrounding sex focuses on procreation.

Tradition, culture, religion, and class dictate access to SRHR information and services. The limited availability and accessibility of condoms and emergency contraceptives push adolescent girls and young women to seek alternative means to prevent pregnancy.

Madagascar is using mobile clinics providing family planning services as a strategy of reducing incidents of unintended pregnancies and maternal mortality and morbidity rates.  Up to 10 women a day die from maternal complications.


Young Pan-African Feminist women leaders, shaping and voicing their own SRHR Priorities and Agenda.

Delegates attending this session shared that there was emphasis placed on the Rights section of SRHR - "People say SRHR are quantifiable goals. No, they are political struggles". There is a need for a transformative space where people can speak up and transform shame into pride.

An audience question was, “Can men be feminist?” This question raised several answers, with one panellist saying that in their view, men cannot be feminists – only allies. This raised a discussion in the Sex Rights Africa Network group, with delegates stating their disagreement with that statement. Have your say in the forums.


In service of youth: Youth access to sexual and reproductive health services

A Botswana study assessed clinics with ‘Youth friendly services’ and found they did not meet international standards - there were stockouts, and 96% of facilities only had male condoms. Services were top-down, had no engagement, no tailor made services for young people with disabilities, and a mismatch of skills due to redeployment of service providers almost every year. The study also found that operating hours were like government offices in 17-18 clinics, so young people could not access them. Findings indicated that youths who accessed these services were mostly out of school Youth. This study also found that young people account for most of the clients seeking treatment for incomplete abortion. Botswana reported that there was only one promising practice out of the 18 health facilities available nationally. The facility that was almost an example of good practice had trained staff, a youth advisory service and very supportive leadership in this facility – this led to a question being asked – “Do you agree these are the main 3 ingredients for a genuine youth friendly service?” Share your views in the forums.

The maternal mortality rate remains high in Malawi at 439/10000 live births.  30% of all maternal deaths are from unsafe abortions and young women (Malawi DHS 2015/2016). Abortion is illegal in Malawi and complications of abortion account for most admissions to female hospital wards. The Dept of Health illustrated how you can’t ban abortion - you can only ban safe abortion. Donald Trump and the other men who decree abortion is wrong don’t care about rape, lack of access to contraception or denial of CSE, says a presenter. In Malawi, deaths from unsafe abortion are equivalent to 16 deaths daily. A Malawian health service provider says “In our country it is taboo for a woman to use contraceptives - even married women.” The same person mentioned that young people seeking contraceptives in Malawi find judgmental attitudes and are chased away. In Malawi male involvement is not working - which begs the question - what method is being used to engage men?


Transformative partnerships for adolescents and youth SRHR – an interactive dialogue on the South African National Adolescent SRHR Framework Strategy 2014-2019

The Department of the Social Development (DSD) in partnership with the Partners in Sexual Health (PSH) held a session which was titled Transformative partnerships for adolescents and youth SRHR. In this session delegates on engaged on how the national framework was being rolled-out by local civil society organisations like PSH. They shared how such partnerships enabled better rollout of services, interventions and activities that target the sexual and reproductive health rights of adolescents in South Africa.

The DSD also elaborated on Ezabasha Dialogues as one of the effective strategies they used to engage communities on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (ASRHR). The dialogues were highlighted as an important source of accurate information for young people, especially in terms of dispelling myths. Young people complain about condoms, that they deprive them of pleasure and they do not like free condoms.

However, one of the challenges that were identified was that young people often want incentives to attend dialogues, even though the dialogues are to "discuss issues that affect them". Another challenge was that young people do not know and understand their [sexual and reproductive health] rights. To this end, the language and capacity of facilitators were noted as some of the challenges that have to be modified to ensure that the materials and information are easily accessible to young people.

Jabulile Mlandu, a trainer at PSH, explained after the session that as an organisation they were able to utilise the ASRHR framework and in feed into the work of the DSD. He highlighted this partnership as one that enabled the exchange of information and the building of capacity. Ultimately, he felt that as PSH they had found effective ways of improving ASRHR.