The Third Southern African Regional Students and Youth Conference
Students And Youth Working on reproductive Health Action Team (SAYWHAT) and the University of Zambia with support from HIVOS, hosted the Third Southern African Regional Students and Youth Conference which was held on the 11th and 12th of July 2019 in Zambia at Cresta Golf View Hotel. Under the theme Plan, Prioritise and Prevent, the conference called on governments and stakeholders to effectively plan and prioritize young people sexual and reproductive health issues, including investing in preventing strategies that eradicate the various SRHR challenges affecting young people in the region. The conference was attended by delegates from 9 Southern African Countries which were Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. These delegates were representing a total of 64 organizations and institutions of higher learning from Southern Africa whilst 2 universities were from the Netherlands (University of Amsterdam and Maastricht University).
The conference opening set the tone for the conference with various presentations and solidarity messages from students and key partners of the conference such as Hivos, SIDA, SADC PF, UNESCO, and ICASA. The messages provided the much-needed energy, support, and encouragement for the students and youth attending the conference, that saw them engaged in the discussions that continued for the 2 days.
To encourage critical thinking and research among students, a debate competition was conducted during the conference, where 4 universities took part. The debates focused on various controversial issues such as feminism and its impact on society, sexual harassment and gender. The participating countries represented were Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa. Zimbabwe emerged winners of the debate.
The conference had 2 key plenary sessions. The first plenary session focused on unpacking the SADC SRHR Strategy, a key process for the third Youth Access project objective that seeks to increase awareness of the SADC SRHR strategy of 2019-2030 by students and young people. Key issues on the plenary session raised where on the level of engagement of young people and the need for ensuring that the sexual and reproductive health rights of key populations are maintained in the implementation of the strategy. SADC PF was encouraged to ensure that there is funding to implement the strategy and countries actually allocate funds for the strategy. Accountability issues were raised as delegates questioned the plans to ensure that countries are accountable to the strategy. Panelists encouraged all stakeholders in working with their respective governments in implementing the strategy and demanding accountability as well. The second plenary session directed attention to all students and youth delegates to dialogue and propose solutions and health demands to policymakers attending the conference.
The conference ended with young people drawing up a conference communique, which was a call to action the various partners and fellow young people. The call to action ranged from a request to SADC to monitor the implementation of Regional Policies by member states and hold governments accountable to the implementation of policies ratified by the member states and governments plan, recognise, and institute platforms or structures that support youth participation in decision making; review relevant laws and policies in each respective country to address child marriages in line with SADC SRHR Strategy, SADC Model law on ending child marriages and other regional guidelines and further prioritise increase in resource allocation towards youth centred programs.
The conference was not all play! A WAKANDA inspired dinner was held that saw the young people rock their WAKANDA attires and enjoy the food and music on the first night. On the second night, young people enjoyed braai and drinks whilst dancing to music from DJ Aaron at Malabar Village.