4 SEPTEMBER 2021
COMMEMORATING WORLD SEXUAL HEALTH DAY 2021
“Turn it on: Sexual health in a digital world”
Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ), a non-partisan national network of women’s rights organisations and activists striving for the rights of women and girls, commemorates World Sexual Health Day, which is an awareness day managed by the World Association for Sexual Health, a global advocacy organization committed to promoting best practices in sexual health. It is celebrated annually on September 4th and attempts to break down social and cultural taboos associated with sexuality and to promote positive sexual health around the world. This year, the theme is, “Turn it on: Sexual health in a digital world”, which inspires the need to awaken awareness of sexual health rights, while also recognizing the harms and violations of sexual rights in the digital sphere.
The rise of digitalisation is undoubtedly one of the most important trends of recent years: more and more people around the world are using the Internet and Internet based technologies to connect, interact, access services and information, and share ideas. Currently, Zimbabwe has over 4.81 million internet users with an internet penetration that stood at 33% in January 2020, a figure likely to have increased sharply with the setting in of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, women in Zimbabwe, particularly young women, continue to face unique barriers to fully benefiting from the Internet. These range from digital skills and education gaps, to affordability barriers worsened by income inequality, to online harassment and infringements on digital rights. Many of these challenges lie at the root of gender inequalities globally: higher levels of illiteracy, inherent biases and negative gender norms and stereotypes, and lower school attainment rates are among the key obstacles that hinder women and girls’ access to digitalisation. Closing the digital gender divide is essential, and for Zimbabwe, this means that Government and the nation at large has to promote a digital transformation that truly leaves no one behind. Promoting gender transformative development policies, including by supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), is fundamental to make sure everyone can benefit from the digital transformation.
It is evident that technology and digital tools can play an essential role in achieving gender equality, including by increasing access to reliable, factual information and advice on issues related to SRHR. Therefore, technology can be used to deliver information and services to people in a simple and accessible manner. For Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Health and Child Care as well as the Ministry of ICT, Postal and Courier Services must work towards the development of digital applications to tackle issues ranging from delivering vital health information to pregnant women and girls to reporting instances of sexual and gender-based violence. We should strive to ensure that technology can be a viable alternative to fill in the gap on information about sexuality and reproduction when comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is absent from the school curricula.
Studies have proven that providing SRH information via mobile phones is highly appealing to young people and can positively influence their SRH outcomes, including improving knowledge, reducing risky sexual behaviour, and increasing utilisation of health services. It should nevertheless be noted that digital solutions for SRHR are particularly effective when they complement and support the delivery of physical services. Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdown measures have had a negative impact on access to sexual and reproductive health services, in particular for people in vulnerable situations and marginalised communities. In addition, cases of sexual and gender-based violence have increased globally. These challenges make clear the importance of leveraging technology and digital tools to guarantee the continued provision of SRH services.
Happy World Sexual Health Day!//END