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A space to celebrate sex and related issues

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The Southern African Young Women’s Festival ran between 25 and 28 October. Young women were brought together to share experiences, energise each other and celebrate their youth and the potential they have to advocate for social justice in their respective communities. The Festival was a platform to equip young women with the practical skills they need for effective advocacy for women’s rights and included many exciting activities including the launching of the 16 Days national campaigns of activism. The Festival was supported by OSISA.

Probably the most conspicuous element of the sex, sexuality and HIV/AIDS session held on the third-day session of the SAYWF was the energy and enthusiasm of the young-women, aged between 18 and 30 years. The discussions followed a talk-show format, where young women from all over Southern Africa uninhibitedly shared, celebrated and sang their experiences and insight, occasionally punctuating discussions with their pro-sister catchphrase “Sister, sister. …Sister!”

The freedom and openness of expression was exactly the result the organisers of the SAYWF wanted to achieve. The author, activist and moderator of this conversation, Luta Shaba pointed out that the spaces where young women can speak freely on issues of sex, sexuality and HIV/AIDS have become limited. These spaces either no longer exist or have become sanitised and usurped by other agendas. The space that SAYWF created for self-expression was fully appreciated by the sisters gathered together.

In general the discussions demonstrated that situations and challenges surrounding sex, sexuality and HIV/AIDS are more alike than dissimilar for young women in the region.

Societies still widely disapprove of premarital sex and the subject of sex itself is even considered taboo. Openly discussing sex in public is frowned upon whilst young women who engage in such talk are judged as badly behaved or promiscuous.

In addition, societies expect that young women’s knowledge of sex be about using the information to please the man in their life (or more precisely, their husbands). For young women who talk about sex in their work, it is difficult to find the appropriate language or terminology in the vernacular. It is tough to convey their messages without coming across as lewd. The discussion on why young women have sex showed that economic exchange is a common reason, whether as prostitution or simple survival. Anny Modi from the Democratic Republic of Congo explained that young women in the DRC are even willing to have unprotected sex with an HIV positive man, in order to earn more money, knowing full-well the man’s status.

Read more and listen to audio from the festival here

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