03.10.2013 - Education Sector

HIV and Sexuality Education: Time to Act Now with Young People in Eastern and southern Africa

© IPPF/Paul Bell / Uganda

UNESCO and partners launch new regional report showing serious challenges facing adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa.

The report brings together a wide range of data on education, HIV, sexual health and gender equality to paint a more detailed picture of the day-to-day realities of adolescents and young people living in 21 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa. The findings show that, despite important gains made in reducing the transmission and impact of HIV, there is still a long way to go. Every hour, 50 young people in this region become infected with HIV yet less than 40% of young people have adequate HIV knowledge. Unintended and adolescent pregnancy is a major issue affecting girls and young women with approximately one in five girls aged 17 having already had a child. Gender inequality is still widespread, and girls between the ages of 20 - 24 are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence.

The recommendations in the report are clear: adolescents and young people deserve better, and they need both the education and health sectors to work together and commit to taking bold action. Such bold action includes reviewing, and where necessary amending, policies or laws that that limit access to the education and health services that adolescents and young people need to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Furthermore, countries need to deliver good quality, age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education that starts at primary school and continues through secondary school. Youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services must be made widely available including commodities that will help prevent HIV and pregnancy, including condoms. Many countries provide some level of HIV or life skills education, but this is rarely comprehensive, or provided at an appropriate age. As one young woman quoted in the report says “Sexuality is not about sex. It is about your body, and what happens as you grow.” The report also concludes that gender equality must be prioritised in the delivery of education and health services to ensure that both boys and girls can achieve their full potential.

The report will be launched on 4 October 2013, in Johannesburg, South Africa by representatives of many of the collaborating partners including UNESCO, UNFPA, WHO and UNAIDS. The authors present a vision for the future of a young African, a global citizen of the future, who is healthy, resilient and socially responsible, who is an autonomous decision-maker with the capacity to reach his or her full potential and contribute to the development of their community, country and the region.  

Prof. Sheila Tlou, Director, UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa and chairperson of the High Level Group providing leadership for the Young People Today initiative said, “As we approach 2015, it is time for urgent action by our governments, young people and civil society to re-affirm the rights of young people to a better future. We have a duty to make good quality HIV and sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services a reality for all.”

With the mobilization and advocacy efforts of UN partners, NGOs and young people, as well as political commitment from leaders, there is a shared sense of hope that the 21 countries in this region heavily affected by HIV can turn this vision into reality in the coming years.

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