Resilience pays in lobby for removal of SRH age of consent in Zimbabwe
In Zimbabwe, young people below 16 years require parental consent to access sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services. This hinders them from preventing HIV and STI infections, unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortions. SAfAIDS and Zimbabwe Young Positives (ZY+) - partners under the PITCH programme - have been advocating for removal of this age restriction since 2017. It turns out to be a long haul, but with great milestones that motivates to further push the agenda.
2017 - Training of advocacy champions
In 6 districts in Zimbabwe 180 adolescent girls and young women were trained as advocacy champions. They raised age of consent as a community advocacy issue and identified issues impeding young people’s access to SRH services.
2018 - Formation of a youth committee
The advocacy champions formed a youth committee with full recognition from the Zimbabwean Ministry of Health. The committee continued to advocate for the removal of age restrictions at facility level. As a result one hospital started bypassing age restrictions through conducting mental capacity and need assessment of people under 16. An initial breakthrough that inspired to push for policy reform at national level.
2019, September - Formation of a national taskforce
Established with other likeminded civil society organisations to drive the policy reform agenda, the taskforce developed a policy brief and position paper for shared understanding. The tools were used to engage with policy makers, drumming up support and creating champions within influential policymakers.
2019, December - Petitioning of Parliament of Zimbabwe
The national taskforce committee petitioned the Parliament of Zimbabwe calling for removal of age restrictions to enable young people below 16 years to access SRH services.
2020, March – Invitation for oral presentation in Parliament
The national taskforce succeeded in buy-in of the then Minister of Health and provided adequate information to move a motion for policy reform in Parliament. Unfortunately he was removed from office during COVID-19 lockdown. Resilient continued engagement with key allies in Parliament resulted in the invitation of civil society representatives for a parliamentary oral presentation.
2020, August – Parliament schedules public hearings across the country
The oral presentation moved the parliamentarians who expressed their commitment to support the advocacy cause. The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee scheduled public hearings across the country to solicit public response to the petition submitted by the national taskforce.
2020, November – A wakening call from resistant groups
During the public hearings, the taskforce’s position faced resistance from religious groups. “Let children be children and total abstinence is the answer,” said one pastor. A wakening call for the taskforce to increase public awareness on the need for independent access to SRH services for young people.
2021, March – Parliament’s feedback on the hearings
Parliament is consolidating a national feedback report on the public hearings which will inform next processes. Presentation of the findings to Parliament is planned for end of April.
2021, March & April – To do’s for the taskforce
In the run-up to the presentation in Parliament the taskforce:
- will meet with the Minister of Health to get buy in
- will draft a proposed amendment and meet with key Members of Parliament to discuss the suggested amendment, to enhance the legislators’ ability to defend the amendment when needed
- influences National AIDS Council to support mobilisation of influential legislators to neutralise politicisation of the report
- will have meeting with the First Lady to drum up support
- reviews previously shared proposed amendments by UNICEF that support the process
The national taskforce committee resiliently keeps on pushing the policy agenda collectively. To be continued!
The Partnership to Inspire, Transform and Connect the HIV response (PITCH) has been implemented from 2016-2020 and aimed to achieve effective and meaningful policy solutions. The partnership did this by building networks, enhancing the use of evidence and strengthening the capacity of civil society to advocate.
Narrative by Lloyd Dembure – Country focal point PITCH Zimbabwe