Empowered generation are key partners in achieving the collective development goals
Johannesburg, South Africa – In a region where development gains are reversing because of multiple hazards from climate change to conflict, disasters and now the COVID-10 pandemic, leaders from East and Southern Africa (ESA) called for empowering the youth and protecting their health and well-being to achieve the common goals.
In a recent event, Ministers of Education and Health from the region came together to affirm the need for health, education, non-discrimination, and well-being of adolescents and young people.
The leaders cited that Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services are not immediately available to adolescents and young people. Lack of access to these services are concerning, especially for young women and girls whose potential will remain untapped if not nurtured.
Challenges in achieving the targets
While significant strides have been made in improving sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) outcomes in the ESA region, there are still gaps and barriers to realizing the ESA Commitment, which is to target the needs and rights of young people.
The COVID-19 pandemic has set back the progress of the ESA Commitment in the region. Access to menstrual health information and supplies worsened due to economic stress, mobility restrictions and school closures. These issues have resulted in an upsurge in gender-based violence, child marriage, and adolescent pregnancies.
An empowered generation
In the region, commitment from countries remain strong. For example, there has been a significant reduction in new HIV infections, as indicated in the 2019 HIV estimates, and a good quality CSE curriculum framework has been put in place and implemented in each of the 20 countries.
UNAIDS Regional Director Eastern and Southern Africa, Ms. Anne Githuku-Shongwe said, “This commitment will pave the way for the ESA region to get closer to achieving the SDG Agenda and the Africa We Want.”
In the recent regional event on 11 to 12 October, the Ministers endorsed the ESA Commitment to deliver CSE and adolescent and youth friendly sexual and reproductive health (SRH). Additionally, they addressed and scaled up initiatives to tackle teenage pregnancy, gender-based violence, child marriage, discrimination, stigmatization, and other harmful practices.
Participants of the meeting evaluated and mapped out the journey forward and discussed the focus for the next nine years until 2030. Ministers and other high-level officials, under the leadership of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the East Africa Community (EAC), together with the regional technical team composed of representatives of UNFPA, UNESCO, UNAIDS, UNICEF, WHO and MIET AFRICA, revisited the roadmap set for the commitments.
The discussion underscored the need for affirmation of the countries’ commitment to investing in quality education or providing comprehensive and life skills-based sexuality education, starting from primary school.
Despite the challenges faced by the region, and especially the effects of COVID-19, by re- affirming the ESA Commitment, leaders, policymakers and young people recognized that strategic investments in adolescents and young people's health, education and well-being are a moral imperative. It will also generate significant benefits for adolescents today, for the adults they will become, and for the next generation as they contribute to the development and prosperity of their families, communities, and the region as a whole.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.
About ESA Commitment
In 2013, under the leadership of UNAIDS and with the support of the Regional Economic Communities (EAC and SADC), the United Nations initiated a process that aimed to develop and implement a commitment to the needs and rights of young people. The initiative has now expanded to include core UN partners and civil society organizations from across the ESA region. The commitment has brought together both the education and health sectors, policy-makers and young people to collaborate and strengthen sexual and reproductive health and rights. The endorsed commitment has an accountability clause that binds the countries to deliver on specific targets in a given period.