In December of 2013, Zambia and nineteen other countries in the East and Southern Africa (ESA) region affirmed and endorsed their joint commitment to deliver Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) services for young people. Since then, in Zambia, CSE has been integrated in the curriculum.
However evidence is limited on what CSE and wider SRHR provision (information and access to services) is available to young people. Available evidence indicates that few existing strategies are operational and budgeted for. Government strategies and services for primary SRH are more effective in urban areas, while inadequate access and referrals to youth-friendly services are characteristic of rural areas. The problem is compounded by low capacity to provide services, especially in rural areas, where 60.5% of Zambia’s population lives. Discussion of sexual health, sexuality and HIV is taboo in many areas of the country, especially in rural communities.
Access to sexual and reproductive health information and services continues to be a problem amongst young people. Socio-cultural barriers prevent young Zambians from accessing guidance on avoiding pregnancy and making positive decisions about their sexual health. Though commendable strides have been made to this regard, teaching of sexuality education is selective, with some topics excluded as teachers respond to cultural and religious norms. For young people in rural communities the challenges highlighted above are even worse. This has contributed towards the escalating numbers in under-age or un-planned pregnancy, high STI & HIV prevalence rates, and a lack of opportunity for young people to claim their right to live full and productive lives in their communities.
Noting the above and the many challenges regarding implementation of sexual and reproductive health and rights programming targeting young people in the eastern and southern African region, specifically Zambia, and in a quest to contribute to improving their situation and that of many others like them, an inspirational group of young Zambians decided to actively do something about it.
As Youth Advisors, falling under the auspices of the National Alliance on Monitoring implementation of ESA – CSE, they undertook an assessment meant to find out how exactly CSE is being implemented in the schools. This was done in the hopes of generating implementation level evidence meant to help the Ministry of General Education improve implementation of CSE programming.
The assessment was conducted in 21 schools around the country from June to September 2016 and through them, the youth advisors collected and subsequently shared a range of perspectives noted at implementation level by duty bearers and beneficiaries including their suggested solutions and recommendations for improvement. The schools assessed were government run schools (Public Schools), private, grant aided and community schools. The assessments employed the use of a specially designed assessment tool meant to guide the process of acquiring information. The tool facilitated the youth advisors interaction with learners and different school level stakeholders directly involved in the delivery of CSE. This interaction, especially with the beneficiaries, enabled the youth advisors to generate a greater depth of insight, analysis and thus provide recommendations.
Their findings provide a snapshot of the current situation obtaining with regards to implementation of CSE in schools, as observed by school administrators, teachers and pupils including their perceptions on CSE implementation opportunities and challenges; and recommendations to help improve the same and as such the Youth Advisors are confident that their findings can be relied on for the purposes of improving implementation of provisions under the ESA Commitment specifically the provisions under CSE. Their findings have been compiled and packaged into a report aptly titled –Young People, Doing Something About It, A Report on the Youth-led CSE School Assessments, 2016 and also summarized into three papers stating the position of CSE implementation as viewed by the beneficiaries - young people and direct implementers including recommendations for its improvement. Apart from sharing with the Ministry of Education, the alliance is using the report as part of its wider advocacy efforts in Zambia and the region.
The National Alliance on Monitoring implementation of ESA – CSE is a coalition of youth-led and youth-focused civil society organisations and institutions championing the rights of young people on SRHR and HIV with a gender component. It aims at generating evidence that is aimed at addressing the underlying causes of the challenges in the effective implementation of the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) Commitment; CSE and SRHR for young people. The alliance is led by Restless Development under the Tikambe-Lets Talk Project funded by AmplifyChange. Together we have a wealth of experience in supporting young people to play a leading role in governance and accountability.
The Youth Advisors are a network of 30 young leaders that, with the support of National Alliance on Monitoring the Implementation of ESA-CSE, are involved in monitoring the implementation of the provisions under the ESA Commitment in Zambia. The work of the Youth Advisors contributes to the Tikambe Project. Part of the projects work is to ensure that young people’s capacity growth in the area of accountability. We believe that if young people have the right knowledge, skills and networks, meaningful opportunities to participate, and the ability to generate and share data, they will be able to participate in bringing about improvements in services meant for them.
Through the alliance, the Youth Advisors are supported to:
• Monitor and review implementation - level and commitments and produce reports to raise awareness of pressing issues around ESA Commitment provisions.
• Gather and generate ESA Commitment implementation level data for accountability and recommendations informing policy or service delivery improvement.