This 56-page report shares the results of a sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) baseline survey conducted by SAfAIDS (Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service) in five provinces in Zimbabwe, which looked at young people's knowledge, attitude, and practices related to SRHR. According to the report, young people between the ages of 15 and 24 need extra support with regard to their SRHR. For adolescents in this group, it is a time of transition from childhood to adulthood, during which important physical, psychological, and social changes take place. The report describes how policymakers, media, and service providers themselves have little understanding of youth SRHR, and outlines several action steps, including building knowledge and proactive engagement in campaigns.
The survey found that 94% of the youth read either a newspaper or magazine, making the print media an important source of information and influence. Local newspapers were read by 59.7% of the youth, while 22.8% read local magazines. This tended to increase with age. Media reach was higher among males than females. Nearly 89% of males, versus 80% of females, were exposed to at least one form of media. About three-quarters watch television, while a third listen to the radio, and 54.5% had access to both. Media exposure was higher among in-school youth than out-of-school youth, irrespective of the types of media accessed. Radio listenership was particularly low among out-of-school youth.
The SAfAIDS baseline found that condoms were well known, and when used, were the most common and preferred contraceptive. When asked: "Why condoms?", young people stated that they are easily and readily available, cheap, or free. There were no significant differences in knowledge about condoms by gender. However, despite knowing about condoms, young people often did not use them because the sexual encounter had not been anticipated. Only between 55 and 65% of 10 to 19 year olds are aware that condoms protect against HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) transmission, although awareness that they protect against pregnancy is generally higher. Out-of-school youth appear to be more knowledgeable about the functions of condoms. Knowledge of female condoms was generally low and misconceptions even higher than for male condoms.
Fourteen out of twenty policy makers had very low levels of understanding on the issues around SRH for young people. On average, they rated themselves as having 'low' knowledge on abortion, dangers of early childbearing, sexual concurrency, the SRH needs of young people living with HIV, the significance of delaying sexual debut and the three main barriers to good reproductive health. Thirty-eight percent of those interviewed were unable to correctly distinguish between HIV and AIDS. Eighty percent believed that youth SRH issues were not constituency agenda items. None of the policy makers could remember youth SRH issues featuring seriously in parliamentary debates in the last three sessions.
In the media, 87% of practitioners questioned did not know of the existence of policy on SRH or the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy policy and strategy. The others were aware of the existence of the policy but were not familiar with the content.
The report outlines a number of action points:
Action points for policy makers
- Encourage local education facilities to make life skills a compulsory class and ensure they have teachers who are both willing and able to teach it.
- Make sure young people in their area understand the risks of both early pregnancy and illegal abortions.
- Ensure HIV counselling and testing services are available in all communities. Policy makers can campaign for knowledge of HIV status to become the norm rather than the exception.
- Make sure out-of-school youth and young people from economically poor households also have education on SRHR. Encourage educational activities related to SRH to be held outside the formal education system, and seek funding for such programmes.
- Campaign so that local service providers hear the voices of young people and respond to their needs.
- Find out whether young people are satisfied with the SRH services available locally and campaign to change them accordingly. Provision of youth-friendly services should be the norm, rather that the exception.
Action points for youth SRH service providers:
The report outlines a detailed checklist of practices that health service providers need to achieve in order to be friendly to youth and promote good SRHR for young people. It also recommends the following action points:
- When young people visit health centres, this represents an opportunity to counsel them on reproductive health issues and to offer other needed services. This needs to be encouraged; one-stop shops are ideal.
- If young people feel that their information is not kept confidential, they are unlikely to return.
- Youth services need to be proactive and offer young people what they need to stay safe - especially sound advice, information, and contraceptives when necessary.
- There is need to support youth networks and coalitions to provide comprehensive education programmes around sex and sexuality, contraceptives, and HIV and AIDS.
Action points for media:
In order for media institutions and personnel to play a role in promoting youth SRHR, they also need to improve their knowledge and understanding of the issues that affect young people’s SRH. The report outlines the following as action points:
- Youth are reading newspapers and watching and listening to media, and they are Zimbabwe's future - the media need to report on issues that are important to this group.
- The media need to become active advocates for "zero new infections" and to stand behind campaigns such as the "AIDS-free generation."
- Editors and sub-editors need to encourage information-seeking behaviour on youth SRH and rights issues for their reporters.
- Funders and programmers have an important role to play in educating the media so that they can fulfill their role in supporting youth SRHR.
SAfAIDS website on March 18 2013.