Improving access to sexual and reproductive health rights — as well as strengthening existing programmes to educate youth about these rights and help to prevent teenage pregnancy — were some of the major interventions that panelists discussed on Wednesday during a multi-stakeholder conference.
The Soul City Institute, joined by the UN Population Fund South Africa, the department of basic education, and the department of health gathered to discuss some of the programmes that have been implemented to provide solutions to the education, health and social challenges faced by young people.
Core to the discussions was how programmes like the comprehensive sexuality education curriculum were met with resistance when the department of health first announced it would be rolled out to learners.
The new policy on the prevention of pupil pregnancies in schools presented an opportunity to talk about prevention within the framework of comprehensive sexuality education, according to panelists.
“Comprehensive sexuality education gives us the opportunity of teaching our learners in school about their bodies: how it develops and grows with them as they go up the grades, to an extent of talking about your changes in the body, including menstruation; when to have sex; what happens when you have sex; and how to prevent pregnancy,” said department of basic education spokesperson, Coceka Nogoduka.
Nogoduka added that because conversations were not happening at home, comprehensive sexuality education was introduced to “close that gap”; the new policy that cabinet approved earlier this month would also ensure that the school environment would not discriminate against pregnant learners, and ensure that teachers who raped learners were held accountable.
Improved and inclusive health services were reported to have yielded some results in the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal through the UN Population Fund South Africa’s flagship programme. The organisation has partnered with the government to support the implementation of sexual and reproductive health rights priorities.
“We have a flagship programme focusing on young people called the Safeguard Young People Programme,” said the UN Population Fund South Africa’s Precious Mogogodi.
“Through this programme, which has been implemented in the past six years in the Eastern Cape and KZN, we have seen lessons being learned in the implementation of improving [sexual and reproductive health rights] needs of young people, where we have the mentoring of health services, and we have a co-ordinated effort on how to implement the services.”
One of the social mobilisers who belongs to Soul City’s Rise Young Women’s Club, Ntombifuthi Mngomezulu, spoke about some of the experiences of young women when they tried to speak up against abusers and rapists.
“Some say they reported the issues to parents, but parents don’t take these things seriously. Some reported to trusted teachers in the schools, but those teachers take the matter to the staffroom and gossip about these things. They joke about these things; they are not taking the learners seriously. The problems are becoming a norm now,” Mngomezulu said.
Another programme that used to focus on social and behavioural change for young people was the popular edutainment show Soul Buddyz, which used to air on SABC. Soul City’s chief executive, Phinah Kodisang, made a call for it to be revived so that it could reach a wider audience of young people.