How can Africa turn 158 million young people into 158 million opportunities?
11 July, 2016 | Blog, Our people, Technical Coordination Group

Three lessons we have learnt after two years of the ESA Commitment

In December 2013 ministers of health and education from 20 Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) gathered in Cape Town and endorsed a commitment to work jointly to improve young people’s access to sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services. This came to be known as the ESA Commitment.

The Cape Town meeting was pushed by the realization that 158 million young people make up the core population in 21 ESA countries and are aged between 15-24 years. The region’s youth are faced with a number of challenges that include new HIV infections, early and unintended pregnancies, gender-based violence, and child marriage. The opportunity specifies that with effective investment in education, health, employment, and youth empowerment efforts, the young people of ESA can be an effective social, economic, and political force.

Following this commitment, African leaders went back to start implementing what they had agreed in Cape Town. Here are three lessons we have learnt in the two years of the implementation of the ESA Commitment:

1. It takes more than health and education to change young people’s lives

The ESA Commitment was affirmed by Ministers of Health and Education, however it is clear that meeting the needs of adolescents and young people cannot be accomplished by the health and education sectors alone. Ministries of gender, finance, and justice need to be involved for the youth to fully benefit from these efforts. For example, in some contexts young people are negatively affected by legislature that ignores their sexual autonomy. Laws bars them from accessing services that would allow them to prevent early and unintended pregnancy, protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, or HIV testing. cialis ou acheter Where countries have laws governing these issues, the laws are often in conflict with each other. For example, the legal age of consent to sex may be lower than the legal age of consent to medical services. Young people who engage in sex therefore, cannot obtain contraception without guardian consent. Ministries of Justice thus have to harmonize laws that govern the age of sexual consent, marriage, and health services to improve young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. The ESA Commitment has become a platform for a coordinated multi-sectorial approach to enriching the health and wellbeing of young people.

2. We cannot leave communities behind

Many young people live in environments where the influence of key gatekeepers in their communities has a bearing on their quality of life. Gatekeepers impact the:

In the last two years, ESA Commitment countries have realized the importance of engaging parents, traditional, and religious leaders in empowering young people with sexuality education. Mobilizing communities to promote equal gender norms, engage men and boys and end the incidence of gender-based violence has the power to transform communities. This is even more so for adolescent girls and young women. When traditional leaders challenge cultural barriers to the health and wellbeing of young women by promoting delayed marriage and pregnancy this affects maternal and child mortality. If we combine this with keeping girls in school, the difference is transformative for women and their communities. In Malawi, Chief Teresa Kachindamoto has annulled more than 850 child marriages in three years and inspired other traditional leaders to address this pressing human rights issue that affects young women globally.

3. Young people are demanding to be heard

When young people become allies in their own developmental issues, they are able to influence policy and the attitudes of gate keepers in their communities. Young people play a critical role in national coordination mechanisms of the ESA Commitment. Through youth networks such as the regional network AfriYAN, young people have proven themselves to be formidable advocates with government. They have demanded their right to comprehensive sexuality education and health services. Youth have been leaders in providing peer-led interventions and providing support to marginalized young people who don’t have access to conventional programmes.

After two years of implementing the ESA Commitment it has become evident that programmers need to keep youth connected to the policy-making processes that affect their lives.

On the 18th of July, 2016 at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban South Africa, senior government officials from Eastern and Southern Africa will come together to review two years of progress in the ESA Commitment. Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and members of civil society including young people, traditional and religious leaders will reflect on the lessons learnt in implementing the ESA Commitment and share promising practices for attaining the targets of the Commitment.


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