Let’s talk about sexual education: East African Conference on Urban Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

Courtesy of Rebecca Bell

Conference: Urban Innovation in SRHR; Nairobi, UN-Complex, February 15 &16, 2017

What are current urban innovations in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)? Is SRHR education a critical part in addressing urban challenges faced by young people?

A recent conference held at the United Nations headquarters in Nairobi Kenya, brought together cross-disciplinary experts ranging from applied ethics to nursing, counselling to medicine, and private sector to local government in order to address these crucial questions on SRHR. Using the Kenyan context as backdrop, with additional consideratiConference Plenary Speakersons from India, Somalia, Uganda and Sweden, the goal of the conference was to identify the types of projects being implemented in our own backyards and how we can improve the SRHR situation in our communities.

The conference started off with an introduction from representatives at UN-Habitat, UNFPA Somalia, the Head of Development Cooperation for Somalia, Swedish Embassy, and a professor of applied ethics from Linkoping University. This panel set the stage for participants to look at SRHR from a variety of perspectives, from the grassroots level to national policy, and beyond to the ethical foundations of SRHR programming.

Representatives from Linkoping University, the University of Boras, and University West demonstrated the prototype of their online open-access course, Haki Sasa, roughly translated to “Justice Now” in Swahili. The presenters fielded questions from the audience with the stated intention of eventually improving health outcomes in communities where youth complete this curriculum.  The presenters verified that the course would be context specific so as to account for different ideas about sexuality and morality within individual communities.

On Wednesday afternoon, two additional panels were conducted. The first included representatives from UNFPA’s Private Sector Health Partnership including Safaricom, Huawei, MSD, Philips and the UNFPA team who brought them together. These private sector executives discussed the role they play in SRHR and the partnerships that can help each sector work to their strengths.

The second panel included representatives of UN-Habitat’s youth and gender units, and their partners from Narotum Sekhasaria Foundation (NSF), India. Statistics on SRHR were expressed for global, Kenyan and Indian contexts, thereby setting the stage for the next day’s breakout sessions. The role of youth and the successes of specific projects were also considered.

Wednesday finished off with an engrossing drama and dance performance by Wale Wale Kenya. The performers communicated the daily difficulties of dealing with family, friends and employers, changes at puberty, and the challenges faced in menstrual health and hygiene maintenance.Wale Wale 2

Thursday morning, 16th February, participants and facilitators were reunited again for short opening remarks before splitting off into three groups for breakout sessions. In the first section, three topics were presented: a workshop on the Haki Sasa course, introduced during the plenary session on Wednesday; SRHR innovations for young people; and SRHR in slums and informal settlements.

The following section held the latter two workshops again, but the first workshop changed to a module on menstrual hygiene management and reusable sanitary pads. These small breakout sessions gave the participants an opportunity to network, discuss their thoughts and get creative together. Small groups discussed solutions to SRHR challenges they face in their own communities; improved upon existing online programmes for SRHR; and gave advice on how to refine reusable sanitary pad templates.

In the final plenary session, rapporteurs from each of the breakout sessions summarized the discussions from each section in order to synthesize the take-away lessons. In this way, all participants were able to share in the experiences of each breakout session despite having only participated in two of the available six sessions.

The two-day conference came to an end with representatives of the facilitating partners giving their final remarks, discussing the successes of collaborative thinking and networking opportunities, and challenging the participants to find ways to continue the conversations and partnerships formed throughout the conference. Overall, the conference was a great success, sparking new ideas and collaborations that will undoubtedly improve SRHR in Kenya and beyond.

Conference Group Photo

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