Norway has strengthened its efforts to address child and adolescent health and well-being, committing NOK 75 million, some $8.1 million, over three years to support UNESCO’s programmes on education for health and wellbeing. This includes support to scale-up comprehensive sexuality education programmes in countries with some of the highest levels of early and unintended pregnancies, child marriage, HIV, and gender-based violence.
The Norwegian contribution marks a significant increase in the government’s voluntary contributions to UNESCO, and enables the Organization to expand the Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future (03) programme, which supports delivery of quality comprehensive sexuality education to adolescents and young people. The funds will allow UNESCO to enhance support to South Sudan, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.
As part of UNESCO’s broader work in education for health and well-being, the funds will also be used to strengthen comprehensive sexuality education partnerships, advocacy, research and monitoring. They will also help promote safe, enabling school environments, including through the “Safe to Learn” campaign, a multi-partner initiative dedicated to ending violence in and through schools so that children are free to learn, thrive and pursue their dreams. It will build on UNESCO’s commitment to addressing school-related gender based violence and bullying, including violence associated with learners’ sexual orientation, gender and expression of identity.
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, said that "this funding reflects the unprecedented priority given by Norway to UNESCO, particularly for our work in promoting health and well-being through education, and for this we are deeply grateful. Norway recognizes the importance of empowering adolescents and young people, enabling them develop the knowledge and skills they need to prevent HIV, reduce early and unintended pregnancies, and eliminate gender-based violence.”
“Girls and boys need knowledge about their own bodies, sexual health and rights in order to make good choices and create positive relations,” said Norway’s Minister of International Development, Dag-Inge Ulstein. “This is also instrumental in reaching the sustainable development goals, and why we strengthen our efforts to ensure comprehensive sexuality education.”
Iselin Nybø, Minister of Research and Higher Education of Norway, said: “Comprehensive sexuality education is an essential part of a good quality, life skills-based education. It supports young people in developing the knowledge, skills, ethical values and attitudes they need to make conscious, healthy and respectful choices about relationships, sex and reproduction. We are pleased to support UNESCO’s work and leadership in this important area. We share a common vision for children, adolescents and young people’s right to access quality education that promotes values of tolerance, mutual respect and non-violence in relationships, supporting a safe and healthy transition to adulthood.”
The Norwegian funds join contributions made by Sweden, France, Ireland, and other donors to UNESCO’s work on education for health and wellbeing.
The need to address these issues is significant. In 2018, 7,000 girls in Zimbabwe, 117,000 girls in South Africa, and 85,000 girls in Malawi dropped out of school due to pregnancy and child marriage. HIV infection rates continue to pose a threat, with 200 girls infected with HIV every day in South Africa, 44 in Tanzania, and 107 in Mozambique. The provision of good-quality comprehensive sexuality education can change that, but it must respond appropriately to the specific context and needs of young people and include a concerted focus on gender-based discrimination and violence, HIV and AIDS, child marriage and harmful traditional practices.
The commitment follows a recent resolution proposed by Zambia and passed at the 207th session of UNESCO Executive Board, stressing the need for all UNESCO Member States to do more to ensure that all girls, including those affected by child marriage and early pregnancy, not only attend school but also receive a quality education. The decision calls on Member States to provide extra budgetary resources and invites the Director-General to strengthen UNESCO’s public awareness efforts and implement concrete measures to address the problem.
It also comes in a week when countries from around the world are coming together to make renewed commitments to sexual and reproductive health and gender equality through the Nairobi summit on ICPD25 (International Conference on Population and Development). At the Summit, UNESCO will demonstrate its continued commitment to ensuring that education, particularly education about human rights, human sexuality, gender equality, puberty, relationships and sexual and reproductive health, is a foundational part of ensuring young people’s health and wellbeing.
Sub-Saharan African Governments welcome the news
Mohamed Zeidane, Secretary General for the Ministry of Secondary Education in Niger said: “Niger, aware of the challenges of education in general, and girls' schooling in particular, has committed itself to setting up an adapted, participatory and inclusive programme on Adolescent and Youth Reproductive Health Education (ESRAJ), supported by a roadmap signed by the Minister of Secondary Education. Norway's support comes at the right time to support this effort in order to ensure the health and well-being of youth and adolescents.”
Deng Deng Hoc Yai, Minister of General Education and Instruction, South Sudan: “Comprehensive Sexuality Education is very important for this young country with vulnerable girls whose culture does not allow the elders to talk about sex. The funds received so far through UNESCO, have helped us to train teachers on Comprehensive Sexuality Education. The country has too many cases of early pregnancy due to lack of awareness. The ministry needs support to implement a nation-wide strategy to promote the right to health and tackle this issue of early pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. I thank Norway for their support and urge them to continue funding such projects”.