With the introduction of the Education Plus effort on the African continent, world leaders gathered in Lusaka, Zambia, committed to taking steps to keep teenage girls in school, which they assured would drastically lower the likelihood that they would get infected with HIV.
Approximately 4200 teenage girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa get infected with HIV each and every week. By the year 2020, the proportion of female teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 who contracted HIV in the area was six out of seven. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2020, AIDS-related diseases will be the second greatest cause of death for women in sub-Saharan Africa who are 15 to 29 years old, after maternal mortality.
The key to putting a stop to the AIDS epidemic in Africa is to ensure that secondary education is accessible to all young women and to provide them with opportunities for vocational training, life skills education, and employment. According to research, ensuring that girls finish their secondary school may cut their risk of contracting HIV by as much as half. Furthermore, combining this strategy with a set of services and rights aimed at empowering girls can cut their risk of contracting HIV even further.
Students in Sub-Saharan Africa should have access to excellent secondary education for free by 2025, as well as complete sexual health and reproductive rights education; they should be free of gender-based and sexual abuse; they should be able to move smoothly from school to employment; they should have economic stability and self-determination. “My government has committed to the provision of free primary and secondary education for all,” said President Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia, who hosted the summit. “Education is the greatest equalizer and with appropriate education, everyone is given an opportunity to explore their full potential and be able to participate in the development process. Access to education empowers both girls and boys as it enhances their ability to access decent jobs and other means of production thus alleviating poverty.”
Macky Sall, the President of Senegal as well as the current Chairperson of the African Union, together with three other African presidents and Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, inaugurated the effort. “It is my pleasure to join you on the occasion of the ceremony to launch the continental “Education Plus Initiative” under the leadership of the Organisation of African First Ladies (OAFLAD) in support to children and young girls in particular,” said President Sall. “There is need for action to promote women’s rights and autonomy, to fight against the discrimination and violence which girls and women face. We must address gender inequality at all stages of life. At the continental level, AU Member States are committed to accelerating the implementation of gender-specific economic, social, and legal measures aimed at combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic by adopting various policy and legal frameworks including the Maputo Protocol.”
The event was launched in collaboration with the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development, which was chaired by H.E. Mutinta Hichilema, the First Lady of Zambia. “I am confident that Education Plus will enable us all to protect, provide and preserve the lives of adolescent girls and young women by enhancing education standards and preventing new HIV infections by use of various interventions,” said Ms Hichilema.” “We lend our voice to the transformative call for gender-inclusive education in Africa,” said Leyla Gozo, Executive Secretary of the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development, “First ladies are uniquely positioned to amplify this inititiative.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of girls out of school, the Education Plus project has taken on even more significance. Even before the pandemic, over 34 million teenage girls in the sub-Saharan Africa area were not enrolled in secondary school. These girls ranged in age from 12 to 17 years old. Evidence also suggests that girls who have dropped out of school are less likely to return.
There are ten nations in Africa that have signed on to the effort, which is a collaboration between UNAIDS, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations Women. These countries represent governments as well as civil society and international organizations.
Source: African leaders launch the Education Plus initiative – a huge step forward for girls’ education and empowerment in Africa, 18 July 2022, https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/pressreleaseandstatementarchive/2022/july/20220717_continental-launch-education-plus-initiative