Feature story

South Africa: Young people to lead a new wave of community mobilization and political advocacy

24 May 2013

Young participants at the UNAIDS workshop. Credit: UNAIDS

Young people in South Africa are facing the challenge of creating a movement to overcome the impact that the AIDS epidemic is having on their lives.

Issues such as intergenerational and transactional sex, substance abuse and high rates of teenage pregnancy are just some of the many factors that put young people at even higher risk of HIV infection than people in other age groups.

Recently, UNAIDS brought to Johannesburg, South Africa, young people from around the country to discuss ways to effectively empower youth to take the lead in the response to AIDS. The base for the discussion was the application of the CrowdOutAIDS Strategy—the UNAIDS Secretariat’s youth-led policy recommendations—in the context of South Africa.

“The UNAIDS CrowdOutAIDS Strategy puts the focus on youth. In the strategy, young people are part of the process in terms of involvement and engagement,” said Bruce Dube, Managing Director of Youth Village, an online portal for youth. “Every young person has a contribution to make, not just at a high level. Young people have the power to effect change in their own communities,” he added.

The elimination of existing high levels of stigma and discrimination, increase availability of youth-friendly HIV services and facilities, and the creation of opportunities to develop youth–driven solutions were identified as the key elements for the young South African activists to act upon.  

“It was clear from the discussions at the workshop that young people are eager to create spaces where they can gather and create dialogue not only about the challenges, but importantly, what solutions lie in their hands,” said UNAIDS Country Coordinator, Dr Catherine Sozi.

Participants in the workshop explored ways to strengthen community mobilization and political advocacy led by young people to scale up the demand and supply of HIV services for all young people regardless of HIV status, sexual orientation or gender identity. The young activists also strengthened their skills for effective leadership at national and provincial levels. They also had an opportunity to brainstorm ways to gain access to HIV-related information, especially through digital technologies, and forge strategic networks among themselves and their respective youth organizations. The workshop will lead to the development of an action plan, using the CorwdOutAIDS Strategy to guide future activities.

“HIV activism is not part of the youth lifestyle—we need to change that and incorporate it into all facets of our lives,” stressed Mr Dube.