On 12th August 2020, the world united in its commemoration of International Youth Day. This year’s theme - Youth Engagement for Global Action – seeks to highlight the ways in which the engagement of young people is enriching national and multilateral institutions and processes, as well as draw lessons on how their representation and engagement in formal institutional politics can be significantly enhanced.
Simultaneously, the year of 2020 has been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, which indeed aggravates many of the challenges already faced by young people in Africa. Including lack of access to integrated HIV/sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and gender-based violence (GBV) information, services and commodities, loss of livelihoods and education opportunities, just to mention a few.
It is against this background that UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa in partnership with the SADC Parliamentary Forum, UNFPA, UNESCO, Restless Development, AfriYAN and the African Population and Health Research Center, have joined forces in convening a series of online engagements with Speakers of National Parliaments, parliamentarians and young people in all their diversity.
Now more than ever decision-makers, including parliamentarians, need to be informed about the specific needs of young people in order to take adequate measures into response and recovery plans.
Invited key speakers to the webinar convened on 12th August in commemoration of International Youth Day included the Honorable Deputy Speakers of Parliament of South Africa and Botswana.
“It is correct that we must infuse some urgency in the implementation when we have heard from young people’s voices and contributions so that we accelerate our responsiveness to their conditions”, said the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa, Hon. Solomon Lechesa Tsenoli, in his remarks on creating conditions for effective attention to young people’s situation and needs.
The webinar series seeks to advance the commitments set out in the groundbreaking Tshwane Declaration, adopted by the SADC Parliamentary Forum Assembly in December 2019, building on the outcomes of a regional Youth Indaba that same year. The Tshwane Declaration focuses on domestication, harmonization and implementation of laws and policies concerning young people’s SRHR.
“My belief is that if we work very hard as a country, in a time not very far away from us, we should have recognized different definitions of children’s laws in this country”, said the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Botswana, Hon. Mabuse Mopati Pule, on the subject of providing a clear age of consent to medical care in legislative provisions for the benefit of adolescents, as well as service providers.
The engagements provide a unique platform for young people to share experiences, ideas, and possible solutions with decision-makers with the ultimate goal to strengthen young people’s ability to exercise accountability while advocating for the fulfilment of their right to health and education.
“The youth can influence incremental change, and the interface between youth and parliaments can bring enhancement towards social transformation in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). The relevance of youth in relation to implementation of SRHR cannot be overemphasized, given that it is the youth that are primarily affected by issues such as lack of contraception and safe abortion”, said the Secretary General of the SADC Parliamentary Forum, Ms. Boemo Sekgoma, in her introductory remarks.
“We do often say: Nothing about us, without us – as young leaders we need to carry this statement as part of our accountability call to seek political spaces and in making sure to voice the actual needs of our fellow young people focusing on improving SRHR in our local communities”, said Hussein Melele, Vice President of AfriYAN Eastern and Southern Africa, in his closing remarks.