In each and every society, there are certain stereotypes that are associated with different practices. These stereotypes affect communities in different ways and hinder or discriminate against those who are perceived as having broken societal norms and values. Such behaviors and attitudes have made it difficult for many to seek help, especially if the issue in need is associated with sexual activities. In Africa, specifically in Zimbabwe, many young adults find it difficult to buy or talk about condoms; get help or treatment for STIs; and talk about sexual reproductive health. Avoidance of these crucial issues had created more problems than it had solved, hence the need for a different approach.
AIDS Counselling Trust (ACT), in partnership with Youth Advocates Zimbabwe (YAZ) and Wild4Life, is implementing a program funded by Egmont Trust titled “Addressing HIV Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) through Gender Norms Transformation and Transformative Masculinity”. Through this program, ACT has been training health practitioners in Youth Friendly Services as a way of emancipating them to be able to help youths in a way that they will feel comfortable sharing and disclosing their need for assistance.
Sister Zimunya, the sister in charge at Chimbwanda clinic, applauded ACT for the Youth Friendly Services and highlighted how the training helped her to carry out her job in a more effective way.
“Before the program, it was hard to tell what the youth who came to the clinic would be in need of. Some would just come and spend the whole day sitting on the bench, unable to say what exactly they would be in need of. I wasn’t tolerating these youths enough to be able to notice that they were in need of assistance. But now it’s much easier to accommodate them as the training allowed me to be able to assist these youths in a friendly way they feel comfortable with. ” Sister Zimunya said.
Sister Zimunya also highlighted that there is a significant change in the number of youths that she assists before undergoing the training and now.
Many youths are now able to willingly open up to me about their sexual challenges. Even if I’m on my off days, some will come to my house for assistance and help. Some will just come for advice concerning sexual matters. I’m now a friend to many, to the extent that we can joke and laugh about these issues. All this has been made possible by the workshop I attended. ” She said
She also highlighted that, through the reputation she had earned as being friendly and non-judgemental towards youths, many victims of sexual abuse were finding it easier to open up to her.
“Ever since I started to be friendly to youths, victims of sexual abuse have been coming forward to open up to me. This has allowed them to get help in time and to ensure justice.” She said.
Youth Friendly Services are also essential in ending stereotypes and ensuring that many youths get help and avoid sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. This is the case in Chimbwanda, as narrated by Sister Zimunya.
“Youths don’t like to feel judged or looked at as if they have committed an act against humanity. We should also normalize talking with our youth about these issues, as that is the only way we can protect and help them. This also has many benefits, as I can attest that through many of my dialogues with these youths, they are free to ask anything pertaining to sexual health, and this is helping to reduce the cases of STIs and unwanted pregnancies.” Sister Zimunya said.
Identifying and scaling up effective strategies to assist young people in making educated, healthy decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives is crucial. We know that far too many young people are unaware of sexual reproductive health (SRH) and other similar issues. When they do try to seek services, they experience discrimination. It is critical to ensure that young people have access to a full package of SRH services offered in a supportive and respectful atmosphere in order to empower them and avoid poor health.