» High level meeting on Ending AIDS: Girls and young women at risk
08.06.2016 - Education Sector

High level meeting on Ending AIDS: Girls and young women at risk

© Jessica Lea/Department for International Development

Despite substantial gains made since the turn of the millennium in reducing the number of adults newly infected with HIV, progress among adolescent girls and young women is slowing. Females aged 15–24 made up 56 per cent of all new infections according to latest figures (2014).

Addressing the elevated HIV risk and vulnerability of adolescent girls and young women is a priority area for UNESCO at this week’s United Nations (UN) General Assembly High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS at UN Headquarters in New York (June 8 to 10, 2016).

The meeting, which draws together UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Heads of State and Government, Ministers, senior officials, people living with HIV and representatives from civil society and the private sector, aims to accelerate the response to HIV and set the world on course to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.

As part of the meeting, UN Member States are expected to adopt a Political Declaration on Ending AIDS to scale-up the pace of progress and reach a set of time-bound targets.

UNESCO’s Health and Education Chief, Christopher Castle, said AIDS-related illnesses are the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age globally and the primary cause of death among adolescents in Africa.

“As the UN Secretary-General’s recent report into the AIDS epidemic found, gender norms which perpetuate inequality continue to prevail across many societies, exposing girls and women to discrimination and violence, and increasing HIV risk,” he said.

Comprehensive sexuality education crucial

“UNESCO strongly believes that accurate, age-appropriate, culturally-relevant, comprehensive sexuality education for young men and women is key to building gender equality, preventing early and unintended pregnancy and reducing HIV. This is now more important than ever, with basic HIV knowledge among young people stagnating over the past 15 years.

“We hope the Political Declaration will make clear the positive links between comprehensive sexuality education and HIV prevention, and present an opportunity for UN Member States to reaffirm their commitment to a holistic response to HIV, which includes education.”

The issue will be further tackled at a pre-meeting of youth leaders and organizations including THE PACT, supported by UNESCO, UNFPA and UNAIDS, where participants will discuss needs and priorities around comprehensive sexuality education.

THE PACT Co-Chair Representative, Oliver Anene, said the pre-meeting also gives young people an opportunity to participate actively during the conference, to inform the negotiations, and contribute to a strong Political Declaration that takes into account young people’s needs and rights.  

“The High Level Meeting on AIDS offers a unique opportunity to renew the much needed political commitment to ensure that adolescents and young people are not left behind the HIV response,” he said.

To know more about the current status of comprehensive sexuality education across the globe, view the UNESCO, UNFPA and UNAIDS report: Emerging Evidence, Lessons and Practice in Comprehensive Sexuality Education – A Global Review

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