Fifth Sexual Health and Rights Conference

The 5th Sexual Health and Rights Conference was held in Windhoek, Namibia from the 19-21 September 2012. The conference brought together more than 500 delegates. Of these, more than 200 were young people from 35 countries.  Sonke and Lifeline/Childline Namibia hosted a parallel session on working with men and boys in sexual and reproductive heath and rights (SRHR). The session attracted more than 50 participants who were eager both to share how they work with men and boys, and to learn what is happening in the region. The team shared the background of MenEngage and the issues being addressed by MenEngage partners across the region. Sonke highlighted projects seeking to engage men in SRHR services in Hoima, Uganda and Choma, Zambia, while Lifeline shared some of their activities in Namibia. The session was a success and generated a lot of discussion around social norms and the need for men to partner with women in ensuring utilization of family planning services. A number of participants were interested in learning more about the MenEngage network and wanted their organisations to begin doing work with men and boys. 

Prior to the main conference, I attended the skills building sessions facilitated training on new AfriYAN leaders on sexuality education facilitated by UNFPA. The sessions were very interactive and encouraged young people to speak about the challenges they face in their sexual health. Some of the sessions looked at values and how sometimes these values may be detrimental to the rights of other people. It was highlighted that in order for us to promote Human Rights, we need to make sure that our values and beliefs do not affect or limit the rights of other people. 

The highlight of the conference for me was that sexuality education for young people became a resounding message for the conference. I learnt a lot from the sessions that touched both on content and process of delivering comprehensive sexuality education in schools. These sessions also pointed out the need for closer partnerships among the Education, Health and Youth sectors in respective countries. 

Finally, I was part of the drafting committee working on the Call to Action from the young people who attended the conference. More than 200 young people called on governments, Civil Society and parents to prioritise such issues as CSE, economic empowerment, our human rights, SRH services and funding programmes aimed at providing youth SRH.

By Remmy Shawa, Sonke Gender Justice Network, South Africa