Keeping youths engaged during COVID-19 pandemic

Madam Boss and Isheanesu Chikumbu (My Age Program Assistant) during one of the social media youth engagements

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about many changes in the lives of many including adolescent girls and boys. This population has been greatly affected by the pandemic as they are found with nothing to do most of the time and cases of Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) have increased so much causing a lot of stir in communities.

According to the Zimbabwe Health Demographic Survey of 2015, an estimated 25% of adolescents are married by the time they turn 18 years in Zimbabwe and these cases coupled with teen unplanned pregnancies have considerably increased since the pandemic which brought about lockdown measures in many countries including Zimbabwe.

To fill in for the time they are idle, young people are engaging in sexual activities that are leading to many problems for them including sexual and gender-based violence, STI’s and HIV.

If girls and women fear for their safety, they cannot realize their full potential. Securing their dignity rests upon eliminating the threat of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and harmful practices everywhere. GBV is a phenomenon that transcends social, economic, and geographic borders. Recognizing the triggers of GBV that include  male dominance, social acceptance of harmful practices, and insufficient legal protections has helped and will continue to aid identification of steps to lessen the vulnerability of girls and women to gender-based violence. Investing in girls and women creates a ripple effect that yields multiple benefits, not only for individual women, but also for families, communities, and countries.

Women’s experience of physical violence from age 15 varies by age, ranging from a low of 28% among women age 15-19 to a peak of 42% among women aged 25-29, and then decreasing among women aged 30 and older. 24% percent of women aged between 15-24 years are estimated to be experiencing sexual violence. While little evidence exists regarding the costs-effectiveness of GBV interventions, the costs of inaction including physical and mental health impairments, loss of productivity, and costs related to social, legal, and medical service provision are staggering. There is no doubt that these numbers are increasing daily in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

My Age Zimbabwe Trust has been working on a series of online engagements anchored on ending Teenage Pregnancy and Child Marriage in Zimbabwe. Without shadow of doubt this in turn increased the project’s visibility and sphere of influence. Key social media influencers were agents of change as they unpacked the topical issues. Amongst these were two young male artists who asserted the need to involve more men in the conversation. The need to engage parents and guardians as agents of change echoed throughout all the conversations. Information on the procedures one needs to follow in the event of Gender Based Violence was disseminated, coupled with that; our contact details were also displayed and a number of young people have contacted us for assistance.

 

In abstract, the pandemic shifted the programming scope and to some extent heightened the issues the project aimed to address; be that as it may work had to go on regardless.  One take away from the situation at hand is the importance of exploring different options in order to derive a business as usual strategy that best amplifies programming efforts in an unusual environment!

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