Youth gather to address social ills

Friday, June 9, 2017
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Durban- Higher Education Deputy Minister Mduduzi Manana says South Africa still has important social problems that need to be addressed openly so the country can overcome these problems.

He said this on Friday when he delivered opening remarks at the Inaugural Higher Education and Training/AIDS (HEAIDS) National Youth Conference held in Durban.

The conference is the first of its kind to be held in South Africa, and the Deputy Minister said it is an important milestone, not only for the Higher Education and Training sector, but for the whole country.

More than 1800 young people from across the country gathered at the Inkosi Albert Lithuli Convention Centre for the event.

The conference is designed to eradicate the impact of HIV/STIs/TB and is also aimed at strengthening general health and wellness issues in the higher education sector.

As part of an increasingly comprehensive HIV/TB/STIs and other health care and support mitigation programmes in the post schooling sector, HEAIDS currently implements various comprehensive health, wellness and prevention projects and programmes in partnership with a range of strategic public and private role players.

The Deputy Minister said the conference is an opportunity to bring together youth from schools, universities, colleges and out of school to share their experiences of working in the field of HIV and discuss their challenges and best practices.

“Although we certainly have come a long way as a country, we have to admit that South Africa still has important social problems that we need to address openly and overcome eventually.

“I am constantly confronted with these in my work in the higher education and training sector and am reminded of the intersectionality of the issues that young people are facing.

“The most important challenge is probably the one of poverty. A significant number of students come from impoverished families and communities. Many female students find themselves in financially unstable situations having to balance the fees for their education while finding funds to cover their accommodation and other living expenses,” said the Deputy Minister.

He said students often take care of their families, as a large number of graduates are the first ones in their families to obtain a college or university degree.

He said pressures sometimes lead vulnerable students to engage in sex work or relationships with older men that cover their study fees and living expenses.

“How often have we heard about the so-called “Blessers” or “Sugardaddies” in the news, but have not taken sufficient time to openly discuss these relationships with young women? The fact that we shy away to talk about the problems in our society, because they make us feel uncomfortable, leaves our female students in relationships of dependence on men that often lead to young women feeling disempowered to negotiate condom use and take care of their own health.

“I would like us to acknowledge that there are also a number of other difficult and important social issues in our sector that we need to address jointly. Besides the mentioned issues of transactional sex, Gender Based Violence and financial struggles of our students, we need to look at the challenges of drug and alcohol abuse, stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and members of the LGBTI community, as well as the lack of youth friendly services in some of our health care centres and clinics, amongst others.”

The Deputy Minister said these social drivers make youth enormously vulnerable to HIV, TB and sexually transmitted infections.

“This is why we have taken the decision as a sector to organise this conference as an opportunity to bring together various government departments, academics and youth from all walks of life to build on our experiences and lessons learnt and find new ways to deal with issues of HIV and social drivers of the pandemic.”

He said the conference is unique because it does not only focus on biomedical research and new innovations in the field of HIV testing, treatment and care, but has a specific focus on the social and structural drivers of the pandemic.

The HEAIDS National Youth conference specifically look at issues of stigma and discrimination of marginalised groups and the LGBTI community and the use of modern technologies and interactive methodologies, such as theatre, radio drama and social media to address challenges of human rights and social justice.

He encouraged youth to use the chance to raise their voices about the challenges and injustices they face every day, to discuss their dreams, visions and ideas and to question leaders.

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