From the 17th to the 22nd November, I attended the Literature and Popular Media Writers’ workshop held in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the invitation of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The other participants were from Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, who were an interesting medley of authors, literature academics, gender and youth activists, poets and journalists.
On the first day we went to the Maboneng Precint, Johannesburg for the launch of the Safeguard Young People Programme (SYP), which was hosted by seasoned journalist Siki Mgabadeli
The SYP programme is aimed at improving and expanding HIV prevention, and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights programmes for adolescents and youth. The tagline read, “Imagine what it would be like if all young people in Africa were healthy, productive and empowered? Imagine them being free from sexually transmitted infections, including new HIV infections, unwanted pregnancies, child marriage and sexual violence?”
The SYP will be carried out in two phases (2014-2016, and 2017-2019). The SYP will serve as a critical catalytic event for youth programming in southern Africa as it will stimulate discussions in most African countries and simultaneously, build capacity, develop guidelines and protocols, generate comparable evidence and increase networking as well as experience sharing.
“Never before have there been so many young people in Africa. Never again is there likely to be such potential for economic and social growth. How we meet the needs and aspirations of young people will define our common future,” stated UNFPA Executive Director Dr Babatunde Osotimehin in a launch statement.
The programme will also facilitate the role of SADC as a normative organisation for its member states, and enable benchmarking and strengthens regional leadership on youth issues.
The SYP specifically aims to empower adolescents and young people to protect themselves from STIs, unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, early marriages, gender based violence, and other harmful cultural practices while promoting gender equitable norms.
We were also treated to entertainment by a group of rappers from different southern African countries, who I later heard, had just met four days earlier, but had already composed a group song. It was refreshing to see local hip-hop act, Zeus, among the rappers who convened there.
The writers’ workshop on the other hand was held to encourage and empower young writers to incorporate critical information into their creative and commentary writing. There was special focus on how to identify and narrate pertinent social issues like class inequality, misinformation, poverty and the different cultural dynamics persistent in African communities. We learnt how to use social media to relate stories that reflect ordinary people’s lives and utilise the different global writing platforms on how to disseminate information.
The launch of SYP and the writing workshop set the stage for future projects, which would be incorporated into the Post-2015 agenda. Since the United Nations couldn’t achieve its goal of realising the eight Millenium Development Goals by 2015, they decided to extend, in order to make it a sustainable development agenda. It’s now not just about reaching set targets, but making an impact.
UNFPA Regional Director Julitta Onabanjo, expressed optimism that SYP and writers programme would be a success, especially if different stakeholders came to the party.
“We have to break through to policy makers, parents, teachers and other people, to disseminate information and ensure that their health becomes a priority. This is the era of social media as well as edutainment, and we should use it to reach out to and empower as many people as possible,” she said.