Tebatso Mamabolo, a student from the University of Johannesburg's Development Studies program, advocates for the Importance of Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) in the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) Region. She participated in the MenEngage and Sonke Gender Justice Symposium on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR), held from October 23rd to 25th 2023 in Johannesburg. This symposium brought together a diverse group of stakeholders, advocates, experts, and young people and served as a crucial platform for discussing and promoting issues related to SRHR, emphasizing the importance of collaboration and empowerment.
Tebatso expressed her appreciation for the symposium experience, both as a participant and a panelist in sessions such as "Dismantling Stereotypes and Embracing Diversity" and "Exploring Inclusivity in SRHR Programs." She declared: "I enjoyed the experience of attending this symposium and additionally contributing to the talks about SRHR. I learnt that collaboration is crucial, and it put me in a position where I can better formulate strategies of collaboration and how to better advocate for the Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future (O3) programme, as an O3 Ambassador, in South Africa."
The ESA region is home to an estimated 1.74 million adolescents living with HIV, representing 60% of the global total. Sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) are therefore crucial for young people and students, like Tebatso. SRHR encompass a wide range of issues related to individuals' ability to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive well-being. These rights are vital for students’ overall well-being, dignity, and autonomy. Tebatso is advocating for the importance of SRHR in South Africa and she shared her key highlights of the Symposium.
Empowering Young People and Diverse Stakeholder Engagement
Tebatso noted that the diversity in participation ensured a well-rounded discussion of SRHR issues from various perspectives. The symposium brought together a wide range of stakeholders, including civil society organizations, young advocates, and academia. Each panelist was chosen for their contributions within the SRHR sphere, fostering a rich exchange of ideas and insights. A standout feature of the symposium was the active participation of young advocates. They played a pivotal role in various discussions and sessions, underscoring the importance of involving the younger generation in shaping policies and strategies related to SRHR. This inclusivity empowers young people to be champions of sexual and reproductive health.
Encouraging diversity and data-driven approaches
Tebatso attended a session focused on discussing questions related to adolescents and young people living with HIV. Interactive breakout sessions were organized to provide hands-on learning experiences. These sessions encouraged active participation and dialogue among attendees, exploring the roles of youth, policymakers, and SRHR advocates in advancing advocacy strategies. The symposium also featured several presentations on recent research and data related to SRHR. An evidence-based approach is important to drive policy change and advocate for better access to SRHR services.
Addressing Stigma and Fostering Inclusivity
The symposium provided a safe space for open discussions on sensitive issues such as reproductive health and gender-based violence. Participants highlighted the importance of breaking down stigmas and taboos surrounding SRHR topics. Tebatso emphasized the need for information strengthening to combat stereotypes and misconceptions. Tebatso added: "I learnt the importance of curating materials that are diverse enough to cater to people with disabilities, and that is a point that I can emphasize in my work as an O3 Ambassador."
Tebatso attended the symposium as an O3 Ambassador, she was nominated to be part of this cohort in 2023. UNESCO has been implementing the O3 programme since 2018, the programme supports the delivery of good quality comprehensive sexuality education that empowers adolescents and young people as well as building agency, while developing the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and competencies required for preventing HIV, reducing early and unintended pregnancies, and eliminating gender-based violence.
Tebatso's reflections underscore the symposium's impact and its potential to drive positive change in the field of SRHR in the region. She emphasized that the connections created at the symposium lay the foundation for future partnerships, advocacy efforts, and knowledge sharing. The MenEngage and Sonke Gender Justice Symposium on SRHR was a transformative event that highlighted the importance of collaboration, youth empowerment, and data-driven approaches in advancing sexual and reproductive health rights.
Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future' programme https://www.unesco.org/en/health-education/o3-programme
Young People Today https://www.youngpeopletoday.org/