Each generation that goes by, comes with merges and strong women movements. This isn’t about to be different. Evidently, Women Movements have for centuries fronted Organization and co-ordination for a greater cause. I guess we are all wondering what now, what’s new? Well, the “Education-Plus” Initiative is here to answer many of the Adolescent Girls and Young Women’s challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is a joint program spearheaded by UNAIDS, UN Women in collaboration with UNICEF, UNFPA and UNESCO Agencies.
22nd/07/2020 marked its ground breaking with consultative dialogues bringing together more than 50 Young Women Leaders all over the world. These consultations were meant to inform the launch of the initiative in 2021 to demand girls have equal opportunities to access secondary education, Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, comprehensive sexuality education, be free of violence and economically empowered to thrive and be HIV free.
Eng. Winnie Byanyima the Executive Director UNAIDS, in her opening remarks stated that, “In 2016, a political declaration on ending HIV/AIDS was signed.” And one of its set targets was to reduce the number of new HIV infections to 100,000 by 2030. However, in 2019, the number of new infections had risen to 280,000 Young Women in Africa. The rate of new infections in Africa was at 4400 Young Women per week. It was then realized that as Young Women continued to be vulnerable to HIV, the vulnerability was rooted in governance, patriarchal systems and non-informed policies.
A number of extensive researches showed that if a girl could stay in school, this vulnerability would be reduced by 40% provided the safety from temptation and harmful sexual practices. Schools were also looked at as a source of extra benefits such as reducing teenage pregnancies, ending child marriage and also further benefiting the Younger generations. So the question remained, why was 2/3 of our girls meant to be in secondary school not in school?
Deriving from the commitment by the African Union which highlighted inclusion of Adolescent Girls and Young Women in economic development initiatives and the 1995 Beijing Platform, the Educate Plus initiative aimed at reducing the vulnerability of Adolescent Girls and Young Women to HIV through pushing Secondary Education for Girls.
The Executive Director of UN Women: Phumzile Mlambo -Ngucka during her speech called upon combining initiatives and resources while putting Young People at the Center so that they never felt disconnected, isolated and idle. The Executive Director UNFPA Dr. Natalia Kanem called upon Universal access to Education and Comprehensive Sexuality Education. “Young Women in Africa need Education, Skills and empowerment” remarks from the UNICEF Executive Director Ms. Henrietta Fore and thus she called upon development of new programs and systems to support Young Women discover themselves. She also extended the emphasis on enhancing technology as it opened opportunities for employment for Adolescent girls and Young Women.
Charles Castle, the Chief of Health and Education Section UNESCO clearly stated that this was a high level political advocacy campaign targeting Education and Health. He called upon advocates to exercise their rights to having secondary education. Being a 5-year initiative, he emphasized the struggle to get girls through secondary education as well as extending comprehensive Sexuality Education. Reflecting on Botswana, he evidently reported that Secondary school education reduced the vulnerability of AGW to HIV by 14%. “As this was a Feminist Framework,” he added, Mental Health, Menstrual Health and Hygiene management, pushing for investment to change harmful Gender practices that involved male engagement were key in its achievement. He ended his speech with emphasizing continued mobilization of Civil Society Networks.
The Inter-Generational Dialogue.
Building Trust and Mentor-ship across generations was the main was the key topic of discussion during the inter-generational dialogue. It was noted that even before the Corona Virus Pandemic, only 1/3 of girls was in Secondary School. This initiative was meant to ensure that all girls had equal access to Secondary Education.
“A good Education System is not waving an I-pad but rather having a well-conducive environment and a well-trained teacher to offer quality Education to Girls,” said Eng. Winnie Byanyima.
Three Breakout Sessions were held where topics on Education and Equality, Ending Violence and Equality, Sexual Reproductive Health and Comprehensive Sexuality Education were discussed. Barriers hindering Young Girls in empowerment, Structural Level, Legal and Policy Frameworks were sighted out. It was realized that to majority Young Girls, Sexuality Education was taught but not facilitated. Partnerships in this campaign were highly recommended to enable inclusion of SR-HR Organizations that worked independently. There was still a huge gap realized Youth Accountability on the Beijing Political Declaration. A key recommendation came from amplifying the voices of Women with Higher Education as role models to the next generation of Young Girls.
The African Youth Charter was recommended as a document that would guarantee inclusion, education and elimination of harmful gender practices on Adolescent Girls and Young Women according to Articles, 13, 23 and 25 respectively.