It’s All Systems Go for ESA Ministerial Commitments Reaffirmation Meeting at ICASA 2021

HEALTH ministers from across East and Southern African (ESA) countries will converge in Durban, South Africa to reaffirm their commitment to advancing Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and youth friendly services in line with the 2030 development agenda and address unfinished business.

By Michael Gwarisa

In 2030, 20 ESA countries affirmed the ESA Ministerial commitments and in 2021, the affirmation meeting will take place during the 2021 International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in Africa (ICASA) conference in Durban South Africa which is running from 6 to 10 December, 2021.

Briefing Journalists during an ESA Reporting Hybrid training, Dr Patricia Machawira, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Regional Adviser, Education for Health and Well Being ESA Region said significant progress has been made since the ESA 2013 commitments.

Available data and reports from the 2013 ESA commitment highlights the process of affirmation/endorsement and implementation of the Commitment between 2013 and 2018. Whilst challenges remain, particularly in relation to monitoring and accountability, the ESA Commitment has instigated notable progress, made possible in part by the emphasis on multisectoral collaboration between health and education sectors nationally and regionally. Progress has been made in advancing health and education, however, the ESA region’s young people still experience challenges in relation to their SRHR,” said Dr Machawira.

She added that while gains may not be directly attributed to the ESA Commitment, it created an enabling environment for multiple ASRHR initiatives in the region.

The data that was available from the 2013 Commitment highlights the process of the affirmation and its implementation.

“We learned from this process, especially around the need for widespread and rigorous consultations. That is why we feel this round table today is very important. We want to get the views and input from religious leaders.

“The evaluation reviewed that whilst challenges remain – particularly in relation to monitoring and accountability, the ESA Commitment has instigated notable progress, made possible in part by the emphasis on multisectoral collaboration between health and education sectors nationally and regionally. Progress has been made in advancing health and education, however, the ESA region’s young people still experience challenges in relation to their SRHR.”

Since 2013 to date, national consultations were conducted by both government and 
civil society Ministers of education and health from SADC and EAC have been consulted 
and their valuable input informed the new commitment.

“We have engaged young people and youth networks, parliamentarians, SRHR managers from EAC and SADC, to name a few. Some of you have been part of the national consultation, but we are glad that we have this amazing opportunity to engage with you at the regional level,” added Dr Machawira.

Some of the unfinished business that have been noted since the first affirmation in inequalities in education continue to persist: COVID 19 related school closures saw 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries out of school. New HIV infections: 5 in 6 new cases of HIV among 15 and 19 YO are among girls.  Limited access to SRH services and information. Insufficient progress to reduce early and unintended pregnancy: EUP rates ranging from 22% to 36% among 15-19 year olds.

“Suicide is the third leading cause of death in older adolescents (15-19 years); and more than 90% of adolescent suicides occur among adolescents living in developing countries.Of the estimated 5.6 million abortions that occur each year among adolescent girls aged 15–19 years, 3.9 million are unsafe, Climate crises and humanitarian situations are worsening. High exposure to sexually explicit harmful and inappropriate content, online predators, cyberstalking and bullying, online harassment as well as misinformation (unsafe digital spaces).”

Meanwhile, Dr Remmy Shawa, the UNESCO Project Officer said the ESA commitments have received buy in from key stakeholders in society and reaffirmation in South Africa would go a long way in addressing some of the challenges faced by young people in accessing Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) services.

“ESA commitment increased political will and engagement on A&Y SRHR. Countries with legal and policy frameworks in place used the ESA Commitment to advance implementation by developing national strategies and implementing guidelines on SRHR. ESA Commitment facilitated creation of advocacy windows for CSOs to engage government

“Despite political will, challenges remain in harmonisation of laws to align to national commitments  (esp. related to the age of consent to sex, marriage and access to SRH services such as family planning commodities). ESA Commitment targets do not detail progress towards effective and supportive implementation of the law for adolescent and youth,” said Shawa.

He however added that there is need for continued investment in high quality, evidence based, gender transformative and age-appropriate sexuality education.

“Addressing structural and social drivers of HIV, GBV, and inequality including poverty, stigma and discrimination, LNOB. Include ASRH services within UHC national package. Support access to youth-friendly HIV/SRH, mental health and GBV services and information. Provide young people with platforms and resources to effectively influence legislation and policy.”

He said there is need to strengthen community engagement: dialogue with parents, traditional and religious leaders, Promoting increased investments in SRHR through innovative financing mechanisms, Strengthen joint multi-sectoral plans for the popularisation, implementation, monitoring and progress reporting of the ESA Commitment, ensure allocation of domestic budgets is commensurate with the size of the youth population and its needs and support the development and operationalisation of regional and national accountability frameworks and scorecards.

 

 

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