The Envoy started her visit to South Africa with delivering a speech at the Youth Pre-conference to the 8th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights (ACSHR).
The pre-conference provided an opportunity for dialogue between youth representatives from all over the continent to discuss common challenges and ways forward to advance young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, including through access to related services, and comprehensive sexuality education and information.[/fusion_builder_column]
Ms. Wickramanaye also participated in a youth dialogue on harnessing the demographic dividend in Africa as part of the pre-conference alongside the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem. The dialogue involved hearing four keynote statements from young people to set the stage for the exchange with the UNFPA Executive Director and the Youth Envoy. It was argued by the young people that harnessing the demographic dividend in Africa required not only rethinking the Africa we want, but also upscaling the commitments required. From her side, the Envoy highlighted the importance of sexual and reproductive health and rights for young people and the need to end harmful practices, saying that “in this century, child marriage cannot be allowed to happen, and similarly, children should not give birth to children.”
Opening the 8th ACSRH, UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Kanem during her address, noted that the deadline for implementation of the Agenda 2030 was only 12 years away, and that there must be concerted effort to change persisting policy barriers and practices that restricts access to health services, sexual and reproductive health and rights, education, and decent work. Speaking on the need to assure access to information and services for young people, Dr Kanem noted that the lack of comprehensive sexuality education can lead to unintended pregnancies among adolescent girls, which can set in motion a lifetime of missed opportunities and personal development.
Together with Dr. Kanem, Ms. Wikramanayake also visited two Rise Young Women Clubs at the Steve Tshwete Secondary School in the township of Olievenhoutbosch, and spoke with young girls about the challenges of growing up and issues they face in their communities, such as teenage pregnancy, HIV, and sexual exploitation. The program Rise Young Women Clubs, created by Soul City Institute, aims to empower young women aged 15-24 years who predominantly live in poor- resourced and vulnerable communities.
The Envoy later visited the Nelson Mandela Children Hospital (NMCH) in Johannesburg, South Africa, an ultra-modern facility that offers free care to patients. It offers complex medical solutions like interventional radiology and has an intensive care unit (ICU) where up to 24 newborns in their most critical state can be treated at the same time. The hospital was exclusively built on donor funding, but now able to partner with three medical schools in the Gauteng Province, and can train fellows to gain experience in the teaching hospital and augment the professionals who are resident at the NMCH. The hospital also attracted top professionals who volunteered their time whenever there was need for them to assist in the hospital. The NMCH is one of only five specialized children’s hospitals in the entire African continent and is to cater to both South African patients as those from the broader region. The NMCH is a great example of the fact that “quality can also be free,” the Envoy concluded, and “serves as an example on how to build partnerships and invest in health for the future generation.”
On the sidelines of her visit, the Youth Envoy also had the opportunity to visit the UN Country Team in Pretoria and address a wide cross-setting of staff in a townhall session. The conversation focused on issues of recognizing younger staff’s contributions and leadership and strengthening the UN System’s human resource practices and policies so that junior team members have better career opportunities. Subsequent to the townhall meeting the Envoy met with the newly arrived UN Resident Coordinator on her first day in office and underscored the importance of ensuring youth issues are mainstreamed in the forthcoming UN Development Assistance Framework for South Africa.
On the final day of the visit, Ms. Wickramanayake took part in an Inter-Generational Dialogue at the 8th African SRHR conference. The panel included Mama Graca Machel, UNFPA Executive Director, Natalia Kanem, the African Union Commission Youth Division Director, Ms. Ngwenya Prudence Nonkululeko, along with a number of very articulate youth representatives, the youngest being eloquent 16-year old Natasha from Zambia. Panelists spoke about issues important to them, underscoring underscored education, health, capacity building, employment and leadership as critical components for harnessing the potential youth population of Africa and engaged in an interactive dialogue with members of the audience.
As her last engagement at the conference the Envoy participated as a jury member in reviewing the pitches made by the various youth teams that had been actively working at the Hackathon that happened on the sidelines of the conference to come up with technologically savvy innovations to some of the key SRH challenges
With an interview on Ubuntu Radio South Africa, the Youth Envoy concluded her visit to Africa, recalling the main highlights of the trip.