The last few months have been an interesting period in the country. There are shocking reports of a collapsing health care system, particularly in the Eastern Cape where there’s a disturbingly high rate of teenage pregnancy. On the other hand, we ought to breathe a sigh of relief at the rate at which the country continues to reduce HIV positive mother to child transmission.
Whose voice is heard?
During youth month, we saw many citizens heeding the call to converge and have a conversation about the values that this country holds, and those it seeks to hold. Affairs like Brett Murray’s painting ‘The Spear’ and the Traditional Courts Bill have steered a current national discourse towards issues of social cohesion, identity, and values that the nation should abide by, However, one cannot help but wonder about the skewed and somewhat selective contributions to the conversation. Not enough attention is being paid to the dire state of our health care system, our education system and the state of young people. Youth in South Africa face many challenges – unemployment, teenage pregnancy, HIV and more.
MenEngage South Africa is a network connecting organisations committed to working with men and boys to combat gender inequality. Inspired to address these problems at their root cause, the network is gaining momentum, and will be first of its kind to exist in the country. There has not been enough discourse on young people and Sexual Reproductive Rights and Maternal Health in South Africa. Given that the country is struggling with the high rate of teenage pregnancy, maternal mortality and lack of service delivery particularly to the youth, the recent formation of MenEngage South Africa is timely.
For the youth, by the youth
There also has been little discourse on how we can involve men, and young men in particular, to address these social challenges that overwhelm our health care systems. Last year, Sonke and UNFPA hosted a policy conference to discuss the role of men in health policy. One of the key activities since that, was the youth lekgotla convened by MenEngage South Africa in June 2012. The lekgotla was organised during youth month with the goal of creating dialogue between young people, policy makers and SRH service providers. The lekgotla provided a space for delegates to address the array of challenges that young people face in accessing health services – in particular, sexual, reproductive and maternal health.
Young people from all walks of life and representatives from numerous civil society organizations attended to engage with delegates from key government departments. At the end of the day strategized on how to promote greater involvement of young men in their own and their partners’ sexual and reproductive health.
The Youth lekgotla was a resounding success and MenEngage South Africa is well on its way to becoming a fully-fledged MenEngage country network, with a focus on youth for gender equality.