News | 26 Apr 2022
Adolescent girls and young women in South Africa are disproportionately impacted by HIV, AIDS and other sexual and reproductive health issues. To help address this, the Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Dr Reginah Mhlaule, together with five United Nations agencies – UNAIDS, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF and UN Women – recently launched the Education Plus Initiative in South Africa to enable young women to enjoy the full benefit of education and realise their sexual and reproductive health rights.
Education Plus is a high-level advocacy drive to accelerate actions and investments to prevent HIV. The initiative is a rights-based, gender-responsive action agenda to ensure adolescent girls and young women have equal opportunities to access quality secondary education, alongside key education and health services and supports for their economic autonomy and empowerment. It provides an opportunity for government to reaffirm its commitment to creating an environment in which young girls can reach their full potential and address the alarming number of young women impacted by HIV infection, early and unintended pregnancy, and gender-based violence and femicide.
The Deputy Minister of Basic Education commended the UN family for partnering with the department’s gender transformational agenda, saying:
“The prevailing gender inequality in our society places adolescent girls and young women at greater risk of HIV and GBV. This work is premised on the belief that empowered girls are the empowered women of the future.”
The Education Plus initiative comes on the heels of the Department of Basic Development’s Policy for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy, launched in February, and aimed at creating an inclusive and supportive schooling environment that is capable, proactive, preventative, caring and supportive to young girls and mothers. In the 2020-2021 financial year, South Africa reported over 132 000 pregnancies amongst 10 – 19 year olds. Research indicates that one in three pregnant girls will not return to school.
Education Plus will leverage education systems as entry points for advancing gender equality and empowerment of young women and ensure they complete their secondary education. NACOSA and one of its implementing organisations, MIET Africa, will be partners in the initiative and were represented at the launch by two learners. Mpho Blessing Maleka, from Hlophanang Secondary School said: “It is important to look closely at teen pregnancy prevention and management, also suicide and depression”. Klaase Ntemba from Walmansthal Secondary School, advocated for programmes that also address boys and young men to enable them to behave well and learn to express their feelings.
NACOSA works with the Department of Basic Education through the My Journey programme, funded by the Global Fund. My Journey exists to reduce HIV and AIDS in South Africa by engaging, informing and empowering adolescents and young people with a package of community- and school-based, peer-led health and social services. NACOSA implements this national programme in partnership with organisations working in communities in the Northern Cape, Gauteng and the Western Cape.
By Neo Mogari, NACOSA In-school Programme Officer