By Berry D. Nibogora, Policy Specialist - LGBTI+, Young Key Populations and Human Rights, UNDP

In Zambia, as in many other countries, young key populations face challenges in accessing HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights services, which puts them at risk of contracting HIV. But important progress is being made.

From 2016 to 2020, UNDP led efforts to address these vulnerabilities through the Linking Policy to Programming (LPP) project. LPP strengthened the capacity of young key populations and enhanced the generation and use of strategic information, including advocacy tools such as scorecards and reports. The project also supported decision-makers to respect the rights of young key populations.

Three lessons came out of the project.

1. Despite the hostile context of criminalisation, young key populations showed incredible resilience and agility in adopting digital technologies to expand the reach of their initiatives, sustain service provision and information sharing. As countries adjust to conducting policy advocacy online, young key populations with enhanced skills to use technology will be decisive in making Zambia respond to their needs and rights. Kingford Mkandawire, Project Associate at UNDP Zambia, said, “We’ve seen increased selfrepresentation of young key populations at high-level multi-stakeholder forums and participation in policymaking processes.”

2. Decision-makers need technical and financial support to help young key populations claim their rights and improve their health. This should be done in a way that demonstrates value for money and advances national development and human rights targets.

3. A youth-led approach to policy advocacy is crucial. Developing the capacity of young key population community leaders helped create an intersex organisation, the Intersex Society of Zambia, as well as a media and arts group, Umotto. Their efforts are paying off through increased visibility online and public discussion of the issues that affect young key populations.

Wanzyanji Mulwanda, radio broadcaster and former UN Volunteer at UNDP Zambia, said, “Digital platforms provide young people with the most broad and affordable advocacy tools to share their stories, thereby influencing people’s perceptions towards stigma and discrimination against young key populations.”

These lessons are informing the new UNDP-led #WeBelongAfrica programme, launched in April 2020.

This article was originally published in the Frontline AIDS READY newsletter.

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