Sexual and reproductive health services must be not just "youth-friendly" but also “male- and female-friendly" and "youth participatory" so that young men and women gain access to the information and services they need and want, agreed adolescents who attended a workshop in Lomé, Togo on 24-25 March.
About 35 adolescents from public, private and church-based schools from Togo and Côte d’Ivoire gathered to discuss the theme “Sexual and Reproductive Health, Violence and HIV Infection.”
The two-day workshop for 11-19 year-olds aimed to raise awareness of comprehensive sex education, reproductive health and the international campaign All In! to #EndAdolescentAIDS.
The All In platform for action and collaboration is based on a vision to end the AIDS epidemic for all by 2030. The All In international campaign is convened by a leadership group that includes UNICEF; Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS); UN Population Fund; World Health Organisation; United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief; Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; MTV Staying Alive Foundation; and the adolescent and youth movement represented by the HIV Young Leaders Fund/the PACT and Y+.
Working with UNAIDS, the National Council for the Fight Against AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Togo, and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), the West Africa Regional Office of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA) enabled adolescents to listen to a representative of UNAIDS Togo who clearly commended WCC-EHAIA for being the first faith-based organisation to officially take up the All In campaign by bringing together adolescents who have been left behind in HIV response.
It was also an opportunity for Dr Christian Mouala to confess that, in Togo, the campaign had not been officially launched, and express a wish for progressive and global work done by WCC-EHAIA with other partners.
Dr Angèle Maboudou, UNAIDS monitoring and evaluation officer, was requested to come back the following day and provide technical support.
The choice of the dates and the age group of the workshop were interpreted by the Rev Dr Simon Dossou, AACC representative. “Thursday in the Holy Week is a symbolic day and seeing participants all in black as a symbol of working toward the end of violence against women and girls is a powerful message. In addition the Jewish tradition says that adolescents will be fully part of the society at the age of 12 and the example of Jesus teaching in the synagogue at that age translated the place of adolescents in the society. Today, here are those the same age gathered to reflect on challenges faced by adolescents, as they have been identified as messengers to go and share the good news that they will learn.”
During the two days, adolescents participated in sessions on knowledge, practices and attitudes regarding HIV and sexual education. Participants noted that, frequently, a response to adolescents’ vulnerability to HIV infection consists of attempts to "keep adolescents away from sex." Teenagers may be denied school-based sex education because adults fear provision of such knowledge will promote sexual experimentation and activity. For the same reason, adolescents’ ability to access sexual and reproductive health services may be limited.
Nevertheless, such restrictions have neither stopped teenagers from engaging in sexual activity nor protected them from exposure to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV.
The influence of social media in the decision-making of adolescents, multi-partner sexual relationships, and intergenerational sexual relationships needs to be seriously considered to reduce adolescents’ vulnerability to HIV.
Adama Akpéné from the Young Men’s Christian Association in Togo said: “We need as adolescents and young people to change our behaviour as the fight against HIV is no more a word but a behaviour, a conscience, a self-knowledge and a decision.”
Contextual Bible study helped adolescents redefine concepts and contexts in order to come to the conclusion that adolescents should break barriers just like Jesus did in John 4.
The debate on sexuality, sexual and gender-based violence, and HIV highlighted the fact that adolescents – both male and female – should receive sex education so that they are well-informed about the reproductive process as well as the positive and negative consequences of sex. Such education needs to be offered within a broad sexual reproductive health framework because it is often the same risk behaviors and risk situations that place teens at risk of violence, STIs, unwanted pregnancies and, in the case of young women, unsafe abortions.
Participants agreed that greater efforts are needed to enable adolescents and young people to participate in designing, implementing and evaluating sexual and reproductive health services so that they become truly youth-oriented and youth-friendly.
* More about the All In campaign here
* WCC Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative and Advocacy here
* The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, by the end of 2012 the WCC had 345 member churches representing more than 500 million Christians from Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other traditions in over 110 countries. The WCC works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.