Around 75 % of the population in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region is under the age of 35. Young people in this region remain one of the most vulnerable and affected groups in the areas of HIV, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and gender inequality.
SADC Member States have made strong commitments to put young people at the centre of their development efforts and strengthen investments in young people’s SRHR within several global, continental and regional frameworks, working towards ending AIDS by 2030 in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
It is against this background that UNAIDS, in partnership with the SADC Parliamentary Forum, UNFPA, UNESCO, African Youth and Adolescents Network (AfriYAN) and Restless Development convened a Youth Indaba in October 2019 in South Africa.
“AIDS is still the main cause of death among young women in the SADC region. We need the boldness and courage of young people to walk the last mile. Young people need to know that they are fighting for leaving no one behind,” said Catherine Sozi, Director for the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa, during the indaba.
The aim of the indaba was to strengthen capacity and collaboration between young parliamentarians and youth activists to ensure that SRHR, HIV and gender equality are prioritized within national development agendas.
“It is inappropriate and unacceptable to design any strategy, policy or law without the involvement of young people. We cannot do anything that pertains to our future resources without youth involvement,” said the Vice President of SADC Parliamentary Forum (PF), Isaac Mmemo Magagula.
The programme of the Youth Indaba included several interactive sessions on innovative approaches to youth-led accountability, opportunities to share best practices and build networks and partnerships.
The last day of the meeting consisted of an intergenerational dialogue between the young participants and senior Parliamentarians and development partners, focused on placing young people at the centre of development, including supporting meaningful youth engagement and youth-led accountability.
According to SADC, people under the age of 35 are rarely found in formal political leadership positions. Therefore youth-led accountability ensures that young people are engaged and participate in decision-making that affects their lives and exercise accountability over those decisions.
“We commit to work collaboratively as youth researchers, advocates and young MPs for the achievement of set targets and commitments concerning HIV, SRHR, and gender equality for all young people in the SADC region, including being accountable to the constituencies we represent and the young people and communities we serve,” said Rahma Suleiman from AfriYAN in Tanzania, reading from a Joint Youth Commitment on youth-led accountability which was later on presented at the ICPD+25 Summit in Nairobi.
Participants developed the outcome document referred to as the “Tshwane Declaration on strengthening youth-led accountability in SADC parliaments for delivering on commitments on SRHR, HIV and gender equality”, which was later adopted by the SADC PF’s Plenary Assembly in Namibia in December 2019. The adoption is groundbreaking in that it promotes youth-led accountability with SADC.
By adopting the resolution, the assembly resolved to undertake several actions required to improve young people’s right to health and empowerment using their legislative, oversight and representation mandate. This includes the amendment of laws and policies that limit young people’s freedom of expression, choice and access to integrated HIV and SRHR services, comprehensive sexuality education social protection and harm reduction services for young key populations.