As dialogues surrounding sexual and reproductive health take a more visible place on university campuses, young people around the world, particularly young women, have worked towards inciting meaningful discussions and solutions to the challenges they face. In the African context, this conversation manifests in the organisation of innovative programs such as the “Reproductive Health Rights Defenders Program in Zimbabwe”. The Students and Youth Working on Reproductive Health Action Team (SAYWHAT), a Zimbabwean organisation supported by the African Women’s Development Fund, has worked tirelessly to create this program.
During May of this year, SAYWHAT debuted a short documentary film highlighting the achievements of Defenders program, how young women students are actively trained to participate in SRHR advocacy and address key challenges. Through a series of interviews, the viewer is introduced to the faces behind the great success of this youth driven organisation.
Tadiwanahse Bunikai, one of the members of SAYWHAT shares about the organisation: “It has groomed strong, confident, powerful women who are able to go beyond the issues of reproductive rights to discuss issues of national policy, politics, social and economic development, and entrepreneurship”.
As young women in Zimbabwe are faced with a number of sexual and reproductive health issues (which include but are not limited to child marriage, poverty, gender based violence and government accountability), SAYWHAT emphasises the capacity building needs of young women in order to better promote advocacy for institutional change within a number of tertiary institutions in Zimbabwe.
On this, SAYWHAT’s Programs Manager, Vimbai Mlambo states, “I have gained more confidence in myself and in my ability to relate with governance issues within my institution. I feel even more empowered to lead an organisation as a young woman. Mentorship has changed my perception about leadership. For me, leadership has become about discipline and self-leadership”.
SAYWHAT’s emphasis on leadership skills and knowledge building has not only increased the confidence of members, but has also produced agents of change. Some of the success stories achieved by the SRHR Defenders Program include projects such as the “Condomise Campaign”, a globally recognised initiative that promotes safe sex options to young women and men. The program has become quite popilar with women students, so much so that the Ministry of Health and Child Care in collaboration with the National AIDS council in Zimbabwe have accepted the proposal by SAYWHAT members to conduct the campaign at a national level.
Individual projects by SAYWHAT members have also developed more accessible and hygienic sanitary disposal methods for girls and women as well as marketing campaigns to increase the appeal for and effective use of the female condom. In this way, the Reproductive Health Rights Defenders Program ensures the social welfare of young women.
In addition to their work with young women, the Reproductive Health Rights Defenders Program challenges policies that miss the mark on SRHR and pushes for institutional changes that ensure respect, support and protection of young women. The Defenders Team has created persistent awareness about a number of sexual harassment cases on several Zimbabwean university campuses and are working towards the implementation of more expansive policies for women students. Partly due to this effort, one of the defenders has been invited to work as a women’s rights advisee to the presiding judge at the High Court of Zimbabwe.
Ultimately, SAYWHAT’s Reproductive Health Rights Defenders Team has a compelling focus on skills interventions and policy implementation on SRHR issues. SAYWHAT continues to empower young women into diverse, influential roles that, in turn, help to to create just futures for other girls and women around the country.
We are proud of the incredible work that our grantee partner, SAYWHAT, is able to accomplish each day in Zimbabwe.
Watch the full documentary on the Reproductive Health Rights Defenders Program below:
By: Mama Biamah