Changing the prospects for women and girls in Eastern and Southern Africa

Changing the prospects for women and girls in Eastern and Southern Africa

  March 23, 2015 1:14 pm

During the 59th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women held in New York, UNESCO UNAIDS and UNFPA partnered with YWCA to organise a dialogue between young women, governments and programme experts to strengthen the commitment to the health and education needs of adolescent girls in Eastern and Southern Africa.

The well-attended event gave the opportunity for panellists to discuss issues facing women and girls in Eastern and Southern Africa and to provide recommendations that emphasized goals and targets for inclusion in the post-2015 development agenda including eradicating child marriage, ending gender based violence, increasing access to education and promoting positive health outcomes for women and girls.

“Education has a protective effect against HIV, against unintended pregnancy and against early marriage, that can only be realized if we ensure that more girls and young women are enrolled and complete primary education and continue to secondary education,” said Ms. Gulser Corat, UNESCO Director of the Gender Equality Division, on behalf of the UNESCO Director General.

“To make this happen, requires bold action, but it is doable and it needs to be done now.”

Ms. Mona Kaidbey from UNFPA emphasised the critical link between good education, including comprehensive sexuality education, and health for women and girls. “Investing in sexuality education and services for adolescents is a critical component to the post 2015 agenda,” Kaidbey said.

Putting the spotlight on young women, Dr Victoria Nnensa, a young Malawian doctor, spoke of the challenges facing young women.

“Many times I have seen young women and girls die right in front of my eyes, just because they didn’t know what to do and where to go; just because they did not have access to something so basic – knowledge. Knowledge that they could have gotten from anyone from the street, or they could have read. Knowledge that could have saved their lives.”

Prof Sheila Tlou, Director UNAIDS highlighted the importance of establishing a safe and supportive environment for adolescents and young people through the Eastern and Southern Africa Ministerial Commitment. This was followed by examples of good practice from in Tanzania and South Africa where concerted steps have been taken to scale up sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for young people. Prof Eustella Bhalalusesa, Ministry of Education Tanzania and Dr Nonhlala Dlamini, Department of Health South Africa presented progress and best practices.

Rev Phumzile Mabizela, a representative of the Faith community spoke of the need to engage the faith community: “most health centres and schools are run by faith communities and therefore, their attitudes to issues of sex and sexuality have a huge impact on how people shape their moral values on some of these issues. We cannot afford to leave them behind.”

“Change does not happen with scaling up to the status quo,” said Ms. Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, YWCA General Secretary, in her concluding remarks. “Change happens if we dare to think differently.”

Special thanks to photographer, Kena Betancur


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