Prioritising youth leadership and participation
It is often said that Africa has the youngest population in the world. This could potentially mean that the majority of the world’s leaders will come from this continent. However, leaders are not produced in a vacuum and one is simply not born a leader, leaders are groomed over a period of time. The best time to harness the leadership potential of people is when they are still young. Giving young people the opportunity to actively participate in programmes that seek to improve their livelihoods and future, and that of their nations, develops their potential. In addition to this, young people face a number of challenges especially with regards to their reproductive health which if left unsolved, could deter them from fulfilling their goals.
Tertiary institutions, be they polytechnics, teacher training colleges and universities are not only centres for learning but hubs for youth interactions and activity. It is during this phase of their education that young people enter into relationships, many of them sexual. Students in tertiary institutions also represent different backgrounds; some of which inform the decisions they make. This can include the decision to be involved in an intergenerational relationship for the financial benefits. Our increasingly fast paced world and the accessibility of technologies has not only increased young people’s ability to receive information but has also heightened their sexual curiosity. It is these factors that make it necessary for create dialogue on sexual and reproductive health and rights now more than ever as such conversations can go towards guaranteeing health and well being of young people. It should be noted, however, that change can only be effective if these dialogues are led by the young people themselves.
The Southern African Regional Students and Youth Conference on sexual and reproductive (SARSYC) is as the name suggests, a youth platform which aims to put young people, students in particular, at the forefront of the creation and implementation of policies and practices that put an end to the challenges that their generation faces. The conference tracks which focus on issues that include stigma and discrimination, marginalised groups, SRH policies in tertiary institutions, the social drivers of HIV and abortion, are grounded in issues that are faced by many societies across the world. These tracks go beyond looking at these issues in a broader context by taking into account young people’s experiences with and opinions on them. Furthermore, the conference allows students to speak in front of youths across the region, civil society, and key decision and policy makers in society. In this way it aims to foster a culture of student and youth participation in national and regional development.
Students in tertiary institutions represent the region’s future policymakers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, among others. They represent a cross section of society. When it comes, however, to leadership, the future should be now. By engaging youths in these institutions and giving them the platform to educate, advocate and lead, a ripple effect will be created. These young people will be encouraged to undertake advocacy initiatives in their respective countries and will thereby mobilise young people including out of school youths to take control of their own destinies. SARSYC, a biennial SRH conference it may be, is also a vehicle, a movement which seeks to empower youths in Southern Africa. Conference activities such as the SARSYC debates, will give them the opportunity to articulate their challenges and find solutions. As a result of this youths in the region will no longer remain passive while their future is negotiated for them.