The sustainable development goals and other global targets have set the benchmark for sexual and reproductive health rights. However, it is one thing to set targets and another to meet them. Many believe and quite understandably so that it is the duty of governments to ensure these targets are met by availing the essential services and domesticating them but in our world sexual and reproductive health quite often takes the backseat. SRH issues are not given prominence by the media and are not prioritised by governments in Southern Africa. Furthermore, issues that relate to sex and sexual activity are considered taboo subjects. There are many legal, political and societal barriers to the attainment of good sexual and reproductive health but the group of people who are negatively affected by these barriers the most are young people. According to the United Nations, the number of new HIV infections is higher among young people. In spite of these statistics more conservative elements of society struggle to accept that young people are engaging in sexual activity and as a result they are not given a platform to address their srh issues and influence policy making in this regard.
The Southern African Regional Students and Youth Conference on sexual and reproductive health (SARSYC) seeks to give young people, particularly those in tertiary institutions a platform to discuss srh issues. One may ask why the focus is on student in tertiary institutions. Tertiary institutions have been in the past excluded from srh planning and programming and yet many young people in these institutions are sexually active. This does not however mean that the issues faced by young people in communities will not be addressed. SARSYC also seeks to give young people the platform to hold their national governments accountable to the domestication and implementation of global targets. Having young people who are healthy and productive contributes to the economic development of nations. The first edition of SARSYC was held in Harare, Zimbabwe in 2015 under theme, “Harnessing The Demographic Dividend Through Investments For Youths,” as a way of recognising the incredible potential that young people have. It was then realised that having merely one conference was not enough to address the number of challenges that young people face and as such SARSYC will now be held biennially in different countries in the region.
The second edition of SARSYC will be held at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa from 13-16 July under the theme, “Building a Business Case for a Solid Future: Promoting Access to Youth SRH Services and Commodities.” This theme allows young people in the region to build a solid case justifying their need to access essential sexual and reproductive health services. SARSYC 2017 will look at marginalised groups including people with disabilities and the LGBTI community, HIV stigma and discrimination, srh policies in tertiary institutions, the social drivers of HIV and abortion. Most of these subjects are sensitive and these groups of people are often stigmatised but mainstreaming these issues will ensure that access to srh services is inclusive of everyone.
Young people in Southern Africa,take control of sexual and reproductive health and be a part of SARSYC!