By Christine Sayo, Kenya
My name is Christine Sayo, I am a 29-year-old Kenyan and current President of Junior Chamber International (JCI). I am a member of the Kenya Adolescent and Youth Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Network. At the beginning of the year, I was tasked to lead a session for JCI members in discussing the African Union (AU) summit theme “Harnessing the Demographic Dividends through Investing in Youth.” Later we met with fellow young people from across the country who had conducted similar sessions to share our findings. 5 of us were then selected to participate in the AU pre-Summit sessions that happened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 19th January to 27th January. It has been a period of intense reflections, interrogation, and learning. Here are 4 of my key takeaways from the sessions:
- For Africa to be first, youth must come first. The AU has declared 2017 the year of the African Youth and dedicated the theme for the year to young people. I fell in love with this theme because it puts young people at the center of development and explores the benefits Africa can gain by investing in her most productive generation. During our pre-Summit sessions we looked at the four pillars of the demographic dividend -- health, education, governance, and economics -- and developed key asks for the Kenyan government to work on if they are to benefit from the youth who form 35% of her population. The future is bright, and Africa can come first if she puts her youth first.
- Managing our population structure should be done with human rights at the center. I led a team of young people from my organization in discussions on the demographic dividend and why it really mattered for Africa. One of the questions that kept coming up was, “Given our current fertility rate and the traditional belief in children as a blessing, how are we going to manage our population structure?” The answer lies in investing in family planning methods that are available for people to choose of their free will and free from coercion. As young advocates, we must ensure governments invest in methods of managing its population dynamics that put the health and rights of women and girls at the center of its policies if we are to truly harness the demographic dividend.
- Gender should be everyone’s agenda. One of the events I attended was the Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) meeting. The two-day meeting was a great opportunity to listen to and participate in sessions on the place of the African young women in the demographic dividend. I loved the energy in the room. I loved the ideas that were being shared. I loved the questions that were being asked. What I loved most was the caliber and diversity of participants; everybody was present: young women, old women, young men, old men, Christians, muslims, rural women, women from urban areas. They were all speaking one language - Gender Is My Agenda. It gives me great hope to see people from all walks of life speaking out on gender issues in a continent where discussing gender matters has happened either behind closed doors or not at all for long been seen.
- Art can be a great advocacy tool. I attended a session bringing together artists from all over the world to showcase how they had used art to raise a voice on social issues. In one of the presentations, an artist from Uganda showcased how he had used photography to portray child marriage and got the attention of policymakers in the country. I learned that art is a tool that can help bring about change. I learned that art has the power to change society by inspiring creativity and artivism can help young advocates communicate with young people as well as governments.
Christine is a Communications professional with a passion for youth empowerment. She has worked as a Communications and Advocacy Manager for different Non-Governmental organizations in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, including Digital Opportunity Trust, Volunteers for Africa and Development Research and Social Policy Analysis Center, and the African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), where she focused specifically on using both traditional and new media to effectively communicate organizational programs, activities and objectives to different audiences. Christine was selected by the African Women’s Development and Communications Network (FEMNET) as the 2015 fellow for Fredskorpset – a Norwegian government professional exchange program for young people across the world. As a Fredkorpset fellow, she was posted to work in Uganda as a communications expatriate helping amplify voices of women in small scale mining in Kitumbi and Hoima areas. She has also delivered key note speeches at different fora including the 2nd Africa Youth Conference on Democracy and Good Governance, Global Peace Leadership Conference, 4th International Volunteer Conference, KBC TV and Urban TV. Write-ups to these conferences and TV shows are available on her blog www.csayosays.blogspot.com. She holds Master of Arts Degree in Communications from the University of Nairobi and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Moi University, Eldoret.