Redefining youth platforms
What is a youth platform? Is it one that is constituted by young people? Is it one that is formed and led by young people? Is it one that examines the issues that are faced by young people? Who is a young person? Is it possible for a non-young person to genuinely come-up with a platform that addresses young people issues?
A youth platform should adequately answer all the questions asked above if it is to effectively comprehend and address the issues that are faced by young people. Indeed the real voices of young people should be louder and clear.
By now we have knowledge of the ever- increasing need to make sure that the demographic dividend does not become a demographic disaster and can recite to perfection the reasons why this is significant to the development of the African continent. While it is necessary to be aware of this, it is also important to note that rhetoric cannot replace action. We cannot afford to merely pay lip service to young people’s issues as to do so will be disadvantageous not just to the present generation but to future generations as well. Global targets on sexual and reproductive health cannot be met without the meaningful involvement of young people, the group of people who are most affected by sexual and reproductive health complexities in Africa. However, saying this is merely not adequate. The following are ways in which we can redefine the platforms and spaces that are meant to be occupied by young people;
- Allow young people themselves to speak on the issues that affect them
The best people to adequately articulate a problem are those who are directly affected by the problem. We have a tendency to state issues in the form of ‘facts’ and statistics. While this is important in the provision of evidence, the voices of those who battle with the issues should not be missing. There is power and humanity in people sharing their stories that cannot be captured by ‘facts’ and statistics.
- Empower young people to participate in the creation of their own platforms
There are a number of platforms which have done an excellent job of providing young people with the opportunity to be heard. These efforts are indeed commendable. It is important to note however that that the leadership potential of young people can be harnessed if they themselves are able to create the platforms upon which they can be empowered. Deliberate efforts should be made in making financial resources available to young people platforms.
- Empower young people to seek solutions to their problems
A problem which has plagued this generation of African youth is that we have become better at identifying problems than coming up with solutions. Solution-oriented people are not necessarily born that way but have sharpened their ability to identify solutions to problems through experience. Solutions which are imposed or imported from elsewhere are also not as effective as indigenous solutions.
- Allow young people to participate in the implementation of projects that seek to address their problems
Beneficiary is a term often used to describe the group of people whose challenges a project seeks to address. Young people cannot meaningfully benefit from a project that they have no direct involvement in. The old adage of teaching a man to fish rings true. It is important to ensure that youth projects are self- sustaining.
The Southern African Regional Students and Youth Conference on sexual and reproductive (SARSYC) has been convened biennially since 2015 with the desire to provide answers to the above questions. Recognising the limitless potential of young people in southern Africa, SARSYC works to ensure that they secure their place in the sexual and reproductive health development of Africa in general and Southern Africa in particular. The conferences prioritises the voicesof young people over any other thus giving them space to articulate their challenges. Young people are also at the forefront of conceptualisation and implementation of solutions under SARSYC. Without an abundance of resources, SARSYC has managed to amplify young voices around their sexual and reproductive health and rights, highlighting the need to include often stigmatised and marginalised groups of young people. As we move towards the third edition of the conference which will be held at the University of Zambia in 2019, SARSYC continues to redefine youth platforms in southern Africa and mould young leaders who hold themselves, their governments and regional bodies accountable for the fulfilment of their rights.