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Connected youth reconciled to heritage

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Connected young South Africans youth are not afraid of having sex, as long as they are properly protected – but many still believe that a man “owns” a woman if he pays lobola and a significant number did not get tested for HIV in the last year or are afraid of knowing their status.

And, while the majority of the wired generation is clued up enough not to have sex with someone they’ve met online, many young South Africans believe that abortion is wrong, no matter what the circumstances.

These are just some of the findings of Praekelt Foundation’s second ever YAL Youth Sex Survey, conducted on its close to 1-million user strong YoungAfricaLive (YAL) mobile platform – reflecting the dichotomy between the country’s switched on and engaged youth and the strong influence that culture, religion and the older generation still have over them.

“This tension between being young and living fully in the digital age and coming from families and communities where culture and religions are still important is amply reflected in this year’s survey,” comments Praekelt Foundation founder, Gustav Praekelt.

A sequel to last year’s inaugural YAL Sex Survey released in May 2011, this year’s YAL Sex Survey covers the period May 2011 to May 2012 and includes a broader range of issues – among them sex, HIV, sexual health, sexuality, love, relationships and culture and heritage.

YoungAfricaLive has also grown significantly in the last year. It now numbers almost 1-million users who are regularly engaged with the platform.

The 2012 survey results were announced during the mHealth Summit currently taking place in Cape Town, at an event that also saw the Praekelt Foundation give insight into additional mobile technologies, including VumiGo, MAMA and Ummeli, that are changing lives in Africa. YoungAfricaLive (YAL) itself has also undergone significant growth over the past year: from launching on 1 December 2009 as a youth mobile community to entertain and educate young people on topics of love, sexual health, gender and relationships, YAL was launched in Tanzania late 2011 and in Kenya early this year.

Based around over 50 revealing questions and over 170 000 responses by YAL’s user community (up from the 138 954 responses in 2011), the YAL Youth Sex Survey takes the temperature of young Africans’ views on a range of issues, through the use of polls on YAL. This is not a scientific survey, but the volume and quality of responses from the YAL community gives real insight into the views and behaviour of young Africans – including on the all-important issues of culture and heritage. The second YAL Sex Survey, for instance, showed that 41% of respondents believe that the annual Reed Dance is important to preserve culture while 58% said it had no place in the modern world. On the other hand, an overwhelming 80% hold the view that Lobola is not outdated and should be valued as “part of our heritage and culture”.

The YAL polls used for the YAL Sex Survey are frequently related to topical issues: for example, in April a poll was linked to a news story titled “Teen gang-raped – Perpetrators caught on video” that reported on the viral video showing a mentally disabled teenager being raped in Johannesburg.  A total of 3 033 users voted, with the majority (46%) stating that the crime revealed a “real problem with the way some guys relate to women” while 22% believed the perpetrators were not raised properly and 27% said it showed how young people would do anything to record it on their cell phones and show it to their friends.

As part of YAL’s intention to track the views and behaviours of Africa’s youth over a period of time, a number of questions were repeated from the 2011 survey, with several more added to what will now become a consistent set of poll questions that will run each period (May to May) in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya (as well as any other African territories that may be added).

Among these is a question about getting tested for HIV: in 2011, 31% of YAL users did NOT want to know their HIV-status. In 2012, that figure was up to 32% – even though actual user numbers for the poll increased.  A new question – Are you gay? (which will be repeated in the next cycle) – has revealed that 15% of YAL’s users are gay, with many having told their families.

The YAL Sex Survey gives voice to the contradictory beliefs that reflect the place in time of Africa’s youth who are visibly stuck between belief systems.

For instance, the respondents have clear insight into how little sex instruction they are getting from elders or society (sex education “just happened” said 44%) but also have strong religious principles, with 53% agreeing with the statement that there is “never a good reason to have an abortion”.  In addition, strong gender stereotypes remain in place – even though men are happy to reap the benefits of so-called gender equality. This cycle’s poll revealed that the majority of poll respondents (44%) believe that it does matter how many people a woman has slept with as this shows “she has no morals”; 89% of those taking this past cycle’s YAL polls believe that carrying a condom is the job of both men and women.