23rd February 2018, journalists across Africa-Togo, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Kenya- converged at a Nairobi hotel, to share experiences, challenges and lessons learnt in covering Sexual Reproductive Health Rights stories as well as chart the way forward on the same.
The meeting convened by International Planned Parenthood Federation Africa Region (IPPFAR) and Member Associations (MAs) aimed at galvanizing journalists across Africa to prioritize factual reportage of SRHR issues, giving it the attention that it deserves.
In Africa, sex and related subjects are deemed taboo. Such discussions are not held openly, at family level, in schools and even in churches. As a result, young people and even adults suffer the consequences. There also exist various myths and stereotypes around the subject. Journalists are therefore expected to demystify the myths by covering these issues with an aim of creating awareness through the various mediums; both online and offline. It is however important that journalists learn and understand Sexual Reproductive Health issues so that they know how to frame better messages to reach the various key public.
Lilian Magezi, a journalist from Uganda said unless she uses better approaches in relaying her stories-such as linking SRHR issues to other development issues- then her stories risk getting published. ‘I have many a times been faulted for promoting ‘bad behavior’ , Said Lilian. Lilian’s case is an example of challenges that journalists grapple with during their work, especially from revisionist movements.
Addressing the journalists, Lucien Kouakou, IPPF Regional/Africa Director encouraged journalists to set a deliberate and sustained agenda on SRHR reporting so that their stories influence the formation and implementation of both national and regional policies. He asked journalists to research on key indicators and government policies related to young people’s SRHR in order to measure the extent of rights’ violations in their respective countries. He further asked journalists to explore and critique policies on SRHR, including a review of international or regional SRHR commitments in order to ensure accountability.
“As journalists you have a role to highlight the realities on the ground, hence probing whoever is dropping the ball” Said Mr. Kouakou
The journalists were incorporated into the larger IPPFAR African Journalists Network. The Network of journalists is a group of journalists across Africa who have set a deliberate agenda to report on SRH issues.
Mr Koaukou was also present for a week-long meeting with Regional Member Associations (MAs) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) working on SRHR Issues across Africa who were also in Nairobi for a Planning, Advocacy & Communication road map meeting. The MAs, CSOs and journalists plan to work together to strengthen their work on the ground and set sexual reproductive health as an agenda for governments.
“It is apparent that there is a gap between the signing of documents (laws) and the actual implementation. Unless all the relevant sectors work together, SRHR issues will continue to endanger lives of women and vulnerable people” Said Mr. Cesaire Pooda, Senior Advisor-Communications IPPF, in a separate interview.
IPPFAR, MAs also announced a yearly award program where they plan to honor journalists who will put in extra effort in covering SRHR stories, as a way to motivate them.
The Youth Meeting
Similarly, young people across Africa under the IPPFAR program also held a concurrent meeting in Nairobi to seek consensus on how to address the challenges that they are facing.
Young people in Africa face numerous challenges on sexual reproductive health. These challenges come in form of lack of appropriate information on access to and rights about sexual and reproductive health care, or if information is available, it is often misleading. There also exists challenges with social attitudes, stigmatization and a society afraid to face the truth.
In an interview with journalists, Risto Mushongo, National SRH Community Outreach Youth/Adolescent Coordinator in Namibia working with Namibia Planned Parenthood Association (NAPPA) shared how cases of HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy and school dropout have significantly dropped in his country ever since the government legislated on Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) in schools and out of school- which is mandatory for every young person in Namibia.
Mushongo, a member of a vibrant youth movement in Namibia advises that young people should be allowed to make their own informed decisions. He however advocates for youth friendly and accessible services.