High Level Taskforce calls for urgent action to address high HIV infection among young women and girls
Members of the High Level Taskforce for Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV for Eastern and Southern Africa, representatives from the SADC and EAC secretariats and UN Agencies including UNAIDS, UNESCO, UNICEF and UN Women held their 2nd Bi-annual meeting from the 17th-18th September, 2012.
The meeting was held back-to-back with the 5th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights at which the High Level Taskforce also hosted a special session that profiled the issue of early sexual debut among girls, resulting in high rates of HIV infection, teenage pregnancies and related poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes amongst young women and girls. They also noted with concern the fact that five countries in the Eastern and Southern Africa region have legislation that permits marriage for girls below the age of 18 years, despite their having ratified international conventions on the rights of the child. This represents a denial of various rights including but not limited to the right to education and it impacts negatively on the attainment of all MDGs and the June 2011 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS.
Noting the commitments and declarations in the area of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), the High Level Taskforce acknowledged advances being made but they lamented that gender discrimination is still a drawback to progress and that the needs of young women and girls (particularly women living with disability) remain largely unmet.
The taskforce called on leadership at all levels in the region, including cultural, traditional and religious leaders to:
- Take urgent action to address the high rates of HIV infection among young women and girls;
- Stop moralizing on the issue of sexuality education for young people and remove all barriers to comprehensive sexuality education and access to quality health services for young people, including young women living with HIV;
- Immediately outlaw civil and traditional statutes that promote early marriages amongst girls;
- Acknowledge that engaging men and boys in SRH programmes is integral to advancing women’s sexual health and rights and take urgent action to scale up good practices in this area;
- Ensure that policies are informed by evidence and aligned across sectors to ensure that young people’s issues are dealt with in meaningful and holistic way;
- Commit country resources to scaling up Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights programmes for young women and girls.
The High Level Taskforce undertakes to intensify advocacy to address political inertia and to profile young people’s sexual health and rights, placing particular emphasis on accessible, affordable and comprehensive SRHR services. Working in partnership with strategic players (and particularly with young people), the taskforce commits to galvanizing political leadership in order to realise the pledges countries have made concerning young people, including young women and girls.