The global target of zero new HIV infection by 2030 is often spoken about and many governments across have committed themselves to attaining its realisation. While this is all well and good, let us remember that zero new infections means that nobody regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation and profession must be vulnerable to HIV infection by 2030. The statement above seems obvious but many societies across the world particularly the more conservative ones in Southern Africa are prejudiced against groups of people which include sex workers, LGBTIs and those who already infected by HIV. Even girls and young women must overcome societal barriers in order to achieve their goals. The theme for SARSYC 2017 is “Building a Business Case for a Solid Future: Promoting Access to Youth SRH Services and Commodities” One thing that can be derived from the title of the theme is that access to sexual and reproductive health services is essential in ensuring that young people realise their potential. It must be noted, however, that this access must be universal. Service providers cannot provide services in restrictive environments and even where they do the services are not being accessed due to fear of persecution or judgement. SARSYC aims to bring together all young people particularly those who lie at the fringes of society and mainstream their issues regarding their sexual rights. Tracks that will be presented at SARSYC include:
- Stigma and Discrimination
- Sex, Sexuality and Marginalised groups
- Sex and The College: SRH Programming in tertiary Institutions
- Social Drivers of SRH
- Abortion and The Pro-Choice and Pro-Life Debate in The African Context
Stigma and Discrimination
Even in its third decade stigma surrounding HIV still persists. Common beliefs about HIV and those who live with it are counter- productive when it comes fighting the epidemic and ensuring that those who live with it receive the necessary treatment. People who live with HIV are oftentimes made to feel a sense of shame and guilt, and in some cases live in secrecy and fear. They also face challenges when it comes to accessing services.
This track therefore aims to address misconceptions about the epidemic and ways that those who live with it can be integrated into their societies, particularly in tertiary institutions so that the battle against the HIV epidemic can ultimately be won.
Sex, sexuality and marginalised groups
The reproductive health needs of people with disabilities and the LGBTI+ are often overlooked. In Southern Africa where being heterosexual and “able-bodied” are the standard against which everyone is measured, it is easy to forgot that the people who do not measure up to this standard can be just as sexually active and their exclusion from srh services will only serve to perpetuate the srh challenges they currently face.
This track will give them the space that is too often denied to them to articulate their challenges and look for solutions.
Sex and the college
In our society where sex and sexuality are taboo subjects, the reality that many young people are engaging in sexual activity is often unacknowledged and as a result they do not feel free to talk about their challenges and access the necessary services. Young people are also often not empowered to come up with solutions to their srh problems and as a result are given answers that do not speak to their problems.
It is therefore necessary that young people in colleges are given a space to demand access to srh services in colleges and hone their leadership skills through doing so.
A problem cannot be solved if its root causes are not addressed. Similarly, the HIV epidemic cannot be fought if factors such as intergenerational relationships, drug abuse and gender based violence, that result in young being infected with HIV are not addressed. The HIV epidemic is intertwined with our most pressing societal issues which include poverty, access to education and even basic human relationships.
This track will look at the various drivers of HIV and srh challenges and seeks to remove the barriers which deter young people from enjoying their sexual and reproductions health rights.
Abortion is only legally permissible under a few circumstances in Southern Africa, most commonly when the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother and in cases of rape and incest. Criminalisation begets and is begotten by negative societal attitudes towards abortion as it is often viewed as similar to murder. However, the reality is that many young women endanger their health by seeking the services of backstreet abortionists. Abortion is becoming one of the leading causes of maternal mortality and post abortion care creates a public healthcare burden.
The track will therefore highlight the issue of unsafe abortion and create dialogue around the provision of safe and legal abortion in Southern Africa.