Title: The Strategic 5: Advocacy and Priorities, Emerging Issues, Commitments and Actions for 2020 and Beyond”
From the 9th to the 10th of December 2019, students from 38 tertiary institutions in Zimbabwe gathered for the 10th edition of the National Students’ Conference held under the theme: “Youth Health, a Development Multiplier”
This conference statement, titled “The Strategic 5: Advocacy and Priorities, Emerging Issues, Commitments and Actions for 2020 and Beyond” represents the voice of students in Zimbabwe in matters related to their sexual and reproductive health and rights. The following are the outcomes and resolutions from the conference:
- What are the Key SRH issues Affecting Young People
The following are the key issues that delegates at the 10th edition of the National Students’ Conference identified to be affecting young people in tertiary institutions in as far as sexual and reproductive health are concerned:
- Menstrual hygiene: The cost of sanitary wear, poor service delivery and absence of necessary facilities are affecting young women’s menstrual health in colleges. The cost of sanitary wear is now beyond the reach of many students. Erratic water supply in colleges, absence of necessary facilities like sanitary bins and incinerators have compromised hygiene standards for women’s menstrual health.
- Sexual harassment: Despite assumed availability of sexual harassment policies in colleges, students, especially the females are still harassed. There is evidence of lack of political will to decisively deal with perpetrators, with known culprits still protected and employed by colleges. Reporting sexual harassment is still a challenge owing to fear of victimisation, absence of trusted and clear reporting mechanisms, absence of independent bodies to handle cases and limited knowledge on the part of students.
- Limited Youth Participation in Policy Formulation: Student delegates at the 10th Edition of the National Students’ Conference expressed concern over limited space for students to participate in policy making processes, at college level or even national level. Because of that, some of the policies available do not give a true reflection of the students’ issues.
- Poor Service Delivery in Colleges including Limited Sexuality Education: Quality Service delivery in colleges has been compromised. College clinics are not offering comprehensive services (e.g. contraception). Water, electricity, food and hostel services are hardly sufficient to meet students’ demands.
- Exclusion of Key Populations: There is no intentionality in addressing the needs of key populations in colleges, including students living with disabilities. Even civil society organisations that support students programs hardly bring disability friendly materials to inclusively benefit all students.
- The Advocacy Message at this Conference
The following are the key advocacy messages and focus areas presented by delegates through the various engagements and deliberations that took place during the 10th Edition of the National Students’ Conference:
- Policies for Sexual Harassment: The need for all colleges to come up with comprehensive sexual harassment policies and ensure accessibility of those policies to the students. Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development to come up with a sexual harassment policy that will guide all tertiary institutions in Zimbabwe at national level.
- Empowerment opportunities for students: The student population is deliberately excluded from national programs to empower women and youths. Students too can be productive entrepreneurs if given the opportunities.
- Improved funding for Students Programs: There is limited programs directed towards addressing students’ SRH issues. Colleges need to improve funding towards SRH issues of students. Civil society further needs to upscale their programing in colleges.
- Opportunities for Engagement with Duty Bearers: The duty bearers at college and national level must create open spaces for dialogue with students. Duty bearers, government officials and civil society organisations cannot come up with youth focused programs if they are not engaging those they are targeting.
- Research and Data Generation: There is need for more investment in research to generate data that can be used to support advocacy and influence effective programing targeting students in colleges.
- The Commitments by Young People
Students at the 10th Edition of the National Students’ Conference committed to do the following post the conference and in 2020 and beyond:
- Be responsible: Being responsible young people including by making informed sexual and reproductive health choices.
- Participate: Young people will dedicate time to be involved and take part in all important processes at college and national level. Young men, specifically committed to create their own spaces to engage each other and challenge negative masculinity.
- Support one another: Young women specifically committed to support one another and be each other’s keeper.
- Speak with one voice: Young people committed to be more coordinated and speak with one voice in matters affecting their sexual and reproductive health.
- To be advocates: Young people will do their best to be counted, to be heard, and to engage with key stakeholders at various levels to air out their views and come up with sustainable solutions to issues affecting them.
- The Emerging Issues not to be Ignored
Despite the existence of various SRH challenges explained earlier, the conference established some emerging issues that need to be part of the programing agenda in 2020 and beyond. These are as follows:
- The need for empowering students economically: Empowerment of students and availing economic opportunities is a strategic way of creating safety nets for students and addressing their SRH challenges.
- The need to tackle semester marriages and “blessers”: Semester marriages (temporary unions) have become a reality and needs engagement with students and community environments where off campus students stay.
- Sanitary wear: Alternative support system for female students to get affordable sanitary wear is now a priority.
- Unsafe abortions: There is need for research to be conducted and investigate the realities of unsafe abortions in Zimbabwe to save the lives of young women including female students.
- Inclusion of Students with Disabilities: There is need for a strategic programing shift where students with disabilities are put on the agenda. Disability mainstreaming must not be ignored.
- Priorities for 2020
- Access to services including psychosocial support: Prioritise access to services including comprehensive sexuality education, broaden service options especially on contraception and widen students’ choices and further ensure students’ access to psychosocial support services to address suicides among students.
- Leaving no one behind: There is need to prioritise inclusion of minority groups including vulnerable groups in colleges, especially students with disability.
- Policy advocacy: There are various policy gaps that needs to be addressed in such critical areas like Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) to create a supportive and enabling environment where students are safe.
- Sustainable partnership. There is need for a holistic approach in tackling sexual and reproductive health issues affecting young people, including coming up with multi-geographic programs that addresses cross sectional issues at various levels.
- Resource mobilisation: There is need to strengthen resource mobilisation in line with the demand for more programs targeting youths, especially in tertiary institutions.