The history of SARSYC
Prior to the inception of the Southern African Regional Students and Youth Conference on sexual and reproductive health (SARSYC), there was a need to amplify the collective voice of students and young people in the region. The commonalities in the sexual and reproductive health issues of young people and the recognition that a combined and concerted regional effort in addressing these issues would be more effective than individual country efforts led to the conceptualisation of the conference. A regional platform which addresses the sexual and reproductive health challenges of students and young people was thus born.
On the 27th to the 29th of August 2015, 350 delegates from eight countries, namely Botswana, Lesotho, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia and Malawi convened at the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC). The conference ran under the theme, “Youth SRHR and the post – 2015 Agenda: A time to invest in young people to harness the demographic dividend.” The conference proceedings were attended by the governmental officials such as Zimbabwe Minister of Health and Child Care, Hon. David Parirenyatwa, and representatives of organisations such as UNESCO, UNFPA and SAfAIDS. The inaugural edition of the conference highlighted the need for regional and local governing bodies to honour their sexual and reproductive health commitments with particular regards to the post 2015 agenda. The conference examined subjects such as SRHR advocacy through youth leadership, programs and interventions for young people with disabilities, access to contraceptive services, the role of men and child marriages. Amongst the resolutions were the provision of youth friendly services, the use of multi-purpose technologies in sexual and reproductive health programming, and the development of youth friendly information and reporting systems. It was clear that the issues faced by young people were too diverse, complex and varied to be addressed in one conference. There was a need for constant feedback, and further reinforcement and engagement. It was thus also resolved to hold the conference biennially on a rotation basis amongst the countries in the southern African region.
The journey that started in 2015 led to the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. From the 13th to 15th of July 2017 over 300 delegates attended SARSYC 2. The second edition of the conference was held under theme, “Building a business case for a solid future through access to youth sexual rights, health services and commodities.” Delegates from countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland were once again present at the conference as the need for inclusivity in sexual and reproductive health service provision was discussed. This time distinguished guests such as Dr. Eka Williams, and Judge Edwin Cameron graced the conference, and organisations such as Oxfam, HEAIDS and Ibis Reproductive Health were represented. The second edition explored issues of stigma and discrimination, the sexual and reproductive health and rights of marginalised groups, sex and reproductive health programming in tertiary institutions, the social determinants of sexual and reproductive health and abortion. The young delegates noted that the responsibility for safeguarding their sexual and reproductive health and rights did not only lay with duty bearers such as government, regional bodies and civil societies but it also lay with themselves. The outcome of the conference spoke to this realisation highlighting the need for young people to spearhead programmes and initiatives, and to tell their stories.
The SARSYC journey will take us to the University of Zambia in Lusaka, Zambia from the 10th to 13th of July 2019. The third edition of the conference provides an opportunity to build upon the ground work laid by the previous editions. The case for investing in the sexual and reproductive health has been validated, and now the time to act and harness the opportunities that have been made available at regional level has come. The regional movement of students and young people continues to gain strengthen and play a decisive role in shaping the future of the region.