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MASERU, Lesotho—Young people of Lesotho signed a far-reaching commitment to sexual and reproductive health and rights, that includes holding themselves accountable for implementation of the commitment, and demanding accountability from duty bearers.

The Lesotho Youth Commitment on accelerating implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action was made during a Lesotho youth dialogue on ICPD, held in Maseru in July.

Lesotho youth commit to accelerating the Cairo promise.
© UNFPA Lesotho

The youth committed to ensuring that by 2030:

  • No woman or girl dies from preventable maternal deaths;
  • There are zero new HIV infections among young people;
  • Youth have access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights;
  • There is zero tolerance of gender-based violence;
  • The attainment and realization of youth rights and choices.

The event attracted diverse groups of young people, including young people with disabilities, LGBTIQA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, asexual and other people), adolescents, sex workers and young health professionals.

A highlight of the event was a panel discussion on ‘What’s changed’ since the ICPD was held in Cairo in 1994, and the unfinished business of the ICPD Programme of Action. It culminated in the signing of the commitment.

Government of Lesotho applauded for progress

On ‘What’s changed?’, young people applauded the Government of Lesotho for making significant progress in sexual and reproductive health and rights for Basotho youth.

Representing school-going adolescents, Thato Nchephe, 12, commended the Ministry of Education and Training for implementing Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in schools and called on adolescents and young people to make use of the information that the subject offers.

Thabo Letsapo said that from CSE, they were learning about their sexuality and adolescent development, which helps youth understand and prevent teenage pregnancy and child marriage among school-going youth.  

The adolescents called for their peers to take advantage of the subject to gain knowledge and skills to inform their sexual behaviour.

LGBTIQA+ can now access sexual and reproductive health commodities, including lubricants, without discrimination.

Neo Kabi, representing LGBTIQA+, commended the government for recognizing the LGBTIQA+ community in Lesotho. “LGBTIQA+ can now access sexual and reproductive health commodities, including lubricants, without discrimination,” she said.

Jerry Lehloka, a young person from the LGBTIQA+ community, said services are tailored for key populations, in response to high HIV prevalence among these populations. The government is making progress in acknowledging the key populations of LGBTIQA+ and sex workers, and the need for investment in these groups was included in the 2019/2020 budget speech. This was over and above their existence in the Lesotho HIV Policy 2019 and the HIV/AIDS National Strategic Plan 2018/19-2023.

Refiloe Makhutla stressed that there has been commendable progress for young people with disabilities, as there are health facilities that are accessible to them.

Mamello Makhele, a young health professional from She Decides, congratulated the Government of Lesotho for making remarkable progress in reducing maternal deaths and unmet need for family planning, and increasing the contraceptive prevalence rate, skilled birth attendance and facility-based deliveries, according to the 2014 Lesotho Demographic Health Survey.

In the discussions, young people agreed that removing the tax on sanitary towels would go a long way towards reducing menstrual health stigma and helping adolescent girls to not miss school during their monthly periods.   

Unfinished business of ICPD

On the ‘unfinished business’ of the ICPD, Basotho youth acknowledged progress made in Lesotho, but stressed that challenges still remain for them.

If I have a disability, people think I cannot practice any sexual activities. We are not regarded as sexual beings, and as such we receive humiliation from society and health providers.

For instance, young people with disabilities face discrimination and stigma in relation to sexual and reproductive health. Said Lisebo Phahla: “If I have a disability, people think I cannot practice any sexual activities. We are not regarded as sexual beings, and as such we receive humiliation from society and health providers.”

Refiloe Makhutla said that for those with a hearing impairment, doctor-patient confidentiality is compromised, and this creates a barrier for hearing impaired people to access HIV testing and counselling services, as well as contraception, as taboos remain for such services, particularly for young people.  

Although health facilities are accessible to young people with physical disabilities, the country topology and the distance between villages and health facilities still present a barrier. Thus, young people with disabilities appealed to the government to provide SRHR information in all different formats to ensure inclusion for young people with visual and hearing impairments.

They highlighted the fact that despite the reduction in maternal mortality, the rate at which women and girls still die due to pregnancy complications is alarming. They expressed concern about the high rate of teenage pregnancy, child marriage and HIV prevalence among young people.  

While they acknowledged the legal frameworks that the country has put in place, key laws that are meant to protect adolescents and young people are still pending and have not been implemented.

In conclusion, the youth of Lesotho committed to 15 key milestones ahead of the ICPD Nairobi summit.

Let’s Talk! Campaign to Reduce Early and Unintended Pregnancy

These commitments were reinforced during the regional launch of the Let’s Talk! Campaign to Reduce Early and Unintended Pregnancy in Pretoria, South Africa, on 31 July. The launch included a workshop with parliamentarians from the 21 countries in the East and Southern Africa region, in conjunction with country representatives from the four partner organizations – UNESCO, UNFPA, SAfAIDS and Save the Children Sweden – to assess the situation in their respective countries and plan how best to roll out the launch to have an impact. 

The Lesotho Minister of Education and Training, Prof. Ntoi Rapapa, spoke about the need to ensure that pregnant girls could continue their education.

Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, Regional Director for UNFPA East and Southern Africa, highlighted the need to ensure that girls have access to sexual and reproductive health services to make the right choices about their sexual and reproductive health and to end early and unintended pregnancy in the region.

- Violet Maraisane with additional reporting by Lindsay Barnes and Anandita Philipose