Youths share experiences

While their heads of state and government were meeting in South Africa to discuss how best to speed up implementation of regional programmes and projects, youths from around the region converged in the Zimbabwean capital to interrogate issues confronting them.

Top of the agenda was the issue of trying to find ways of putting youth issues on the national and regional agenda and influencing policies that affect disadvantaged groups, chief among these being young people and women.

With the sub-Saharan Africa region, particularly Southern Africa , currently at the epicentre of the global HIV and AIDS pandemic, the young people acknowledge the mammoth obstacles confronting them. Drawn from Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland and hosts Zimbabwe, the youths also say they face challenges of gender discrimination, economic marginalisation and trying to be heard in a very difficult political environment.

“We have realised that the war against the HIV/AIDS scourge will be lost if these are not addressed fairly and squarely,” said Alfred Sigudhla, president of the Southern African Youth Movement.

“We need to share country experiences. As young people, we need a common approach in our programmes. No single country has a monopoly in how to address challenges brought about by the epidemic.”

Thatayahowa Kabositwe of the Botswana National Youth Council, said issues affecting the disabled should be put on the public stage alongside HIV and AIDS, political accountability, good governance and equal and fair access to national resources.

“It’s an area (disability) that we need to look into seriously,” he noted, lamenting that in Botswana they have no special projects specifically targeting the disabled.

Although waving a banner of dialogue, consensus and tolerance, as a route to follow in national development, Thomas Deve, a social activist and current chair of the Media Institute of Southern Africa – Zimbabwe Chapter, fanned the fires of frustration, taking the dialogue into the political realm.

“At the moment,” he declares, “we are living in a very challenging political context, and we need to break out ‘ with a little help from other comrades and young people here and abroad. We, young people, need to create our own space and put our own concerns on the agenda,” he stated categorically, addressing participants that also included representatives of the National Council of Swedish Youth Organisations (LSU).

Sharing experiences with their counterparts from the North, the meeting also explored the benefits of cooperation and partnership between their different countries.

Pinar Mermer, a board member of LSU and social activist, said young people everywhere face similar problems ‘ developed North and developing South ‘ and need to network and help influence development in the new millennium.

“As young people, we need to know and define our goals and how to get there, irrespective of where we are or come from,” Mermer, who is of mixed Swedish and Turkish parentage, said.

A recent university graduate, she noted that gender discrimination is of universal concern due to cultural expectations and the patriarchal lenses through which we determine gender roles.

“Our patriarchal society prescribes gender roles to each and every person and that individual is forced to conform,” she observed, explaining this socialisation process is fostered from an early age.

“But,” she said, “this socialisation plays out to the disadvantage of women and girls ‘ through some suppression techniques that some, if most, men have come to internalise.”

And Vimbai Nhapi, president of the Zimbabwe Junior Parliament, underlined the scale of the challenges facing young people and girls in particular.

“I represent a constituency most affected by HIV and AIDS, child abuse, homelessness, unemployment and delinquency,” she said, telling The Southern Times before flying to New York for another international youth forum, that as youths with a positive sense of belonging, her organisation had set up awareness programmes in most districts in the 10 provinces in Zimbabwe. These include Seven Days of Activism Against Child Sexual Abuse. And they have also lobbied for stiffer sentences on child abusers.

“Suffering behind closed doors is not an option,” she said, adding: “We have to take it upon ourselves to trying it out of the closet ‘ none but ourselves can bring the change we want!”

December 2006
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