Building peace in the minds of men and women

Responding to early and unintended pregnancy, HIV and gender-based violence in West and Central Africa

14 January 2019

Health and education ministers from 22 countries in West and Central Africa (WCA) came together in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire 28 to 30 November, 2018 to take a first step toward a commitment to increase adolescents’ and young people’s access to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services.

The conference, organised by UNESCO and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), marks a major milestone in the process toward ministerial commitment, as well as the regional response to early and unintended pregnancy, HIV and gender-based violence in school settings. An agreed roadmap toward ministerial commitment was established and the 120 participants, which included representatives from the United Nations, bilateral organizations and NGOs, started planning actions to be implemented at the national level to support the initiative. A mapping of the latest self-evaluated status update of CSE in each country in the region was also presented during the conference.

Since 2015, country regional representatives have called for more intensive action and high-level commitment to ensure that all adolescents and young people have access to CSE and SRH services, not least because these issues heavily impact education and the development of nations. Xavier Hospital, UNESCO’s Regional Health Advisor for WCA explains that, “we are at the beginning of a process that involves the whole of Western and Central Africa. A process which is key for the success of interventions to strengthen the quality and coverage of CSE in the future and respond to issues that threaten education achievement, such as early and unintended pregnancies, gender-based violence, or HIV.”

Commitment to scale-up CSE

The proposed ministerial commitment is set to enhance advocacy, provide a policy framework to facilitate the scale-up of CSE, help strengthen CSE in coordinating mechanisms, improve collaboration between the education and health sectors and mobilize donors around a common agenda. The commitment will be developed on the basis of a forthcoming report on the current status of young people and adolescents in WCA with respect to education, SRH including HIV, gender equality and gender-based violence. This report will be produced over the first half of 2019 by a Technical Working Group made of technical staff from United Nations regional teams working on youth, HIV, SRH, gender and education, regional non-governmental organizations, regional economic communities and bilateral cooperation. It will then be discussed at both the regional and national levels.

Consultations with key stakeholders at national and regional levels will also be key to determining the content of the commitment. At the regional level, the commitment will be supported by a High-Level Committee comprised of high-level political figures, experts, religious leaders, opinion leaders and youth representatives. At the national level, the commitment will be supported by contributions from working groups comprised of civil society, traditional and religious leaders, parents associations, journalists, members of parliament, and ministers of health, education and youth.

Importance of youth-friendly services

An increasing number of countries recognize that good quality CSE, in conjunction with youth-friendly services, is effective in addressing these issues. Prior examples in East and Southern Africa, where countries have already endorsed a commitment to CSE and SRH services for young people, confirm that ministry-endorsed political commitment can go a long way to improve the accountability of political leaders, secure funding and improve intersectoral collaboration. Ultimately, CSE and SRH services will contribute to the implementation of the AU Roadmap to Harness the Demographic Dividend and the Continental Education Strategy for Africa.