MASERU – African and European leaders have committed themselves to ensuring that every girl in Sub-Saharan Africa gets secondary education so that they can be successful and safely transit into adolescence.
The leaders are worried that 18 years after Africa came together to sign the Maputo Protocol, many girls and young women are still shut out of vital services, including secondary education. The Maputo Protocol, as it is widely known, is a protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and is one of the most progressive legal instruments providing a comprehensive set of human rights for African women.
Unlike any other women’s human rights instruments, it details wide-ranging and substantive human rights for women covering the entire spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural as well as environmental rights. It is informally named the African Bill of Rights for Women’s Human Rights, and has since its adoption 13 years ago in 2003, contributed in shifting the trajectory on the promotion and protection of women’s human rights in Africa.
Lesotho ratified the Maputo Protocol on October 26, 2004. But concerns have emerged from discussions at the Africa–Europe Summit held in Brussels this week, where the two continents came together to discuss ways for greater prosperity. Executive Director at UNAIDS, Winnie Byanyim, noted ensuring that girls complete their secondary education will reduce the alarming rate at which young girls are being infected by HIV and getting pregnant. She said data shows that 4 200 young girls and women in Africa get infected with HIV every week.
Byanyim said the girls are more prone to be infected than their male counterparts pointing out that out of six cases, five are of girls aged between 15 and 19 years infected with HIV. She further said that out of 10 girls, seven lack HIV prevention education. She, however, noted that the alarming increase in HIV infection in girls can be reduced by ensuring that they stay in schools at least until they complete their secondary education.
“This is something that can be stopped. Completion of secondary school has reduced HIV infections by 50 percent in Africa. It is for this reason that we believe the Education Plus initiative is a good approach to address the challenge,” she said. The ‘Education Plus’ initiative is a high-profile, high-level political advocacy drive to accelerate actions and investments to prevent HIV. It is centred on the empowerment of adolescent girls and young women and the achievement of gender equality in Sub-Saharan Africa – with secondary education as the strategic entry point.
Byanyim said the initiative will ensure that African girls, 34 million of whom were reported to have dropped out of school due to Covid-19, return to classrooms thus reducing their chances of being abused, exploited, being exposed to gender based violence or early marriages and also avoid being exposed to being infected with HIV to mention but a few. The initiative further challenges government decision-makers at the highest level to model leadership and fulfill their essential duties to realise every girl’s right to health and education. It brings added pressure to persuade governments to roll out universal secondary education, free for girls and boys.
The two continents challenged decision-makers and the donor community to significantly scale-up investments, policies and actions on education and holistic, multi-sectoral interventions for adolescent girls and young women to prevent HIV and gain many other social and economic benefits, including for those already living with HIV. The initiative is spearheaded by five United Nations women leaders and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. It was first announced by the UNAIDS Executive Director at the Nairobi Summit in November 2019 as her signature initiative upon taking office. The ‘Education Plus’ Initiative is endorsed and co-led by the heads of UNAIDS, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNFPA and UN Women.
Mohammed Fall, Eastern and Southern Regional Director at UNICEF, noted during the Summit that Covid-19 has worsened the case of children dropping out of school, further pointing out that mostly those that could not go back to classes were girls. He said this has exposed a lot of girls to abuse and exploitation with 300 000 girls reported to have fallen pregnant within the past two years.
Fall said with the Education Plus Initiative, they will be able to address barriers to girls’ education, provide girls with skills and health education that will enable them to face future challenges. Joyce Ouma from Nairobi in Kenya, is one of the youths who articulated how being diagnosed with HIV during her secondary school affect her education and life in general.
She said she was exposed to daily discrimination and stigmatisation which nearly saw her giving up on her education. Now a Master’s Degree holder, Ouma notes that she still struggles with abuse and stigma as a result of her HIV status. She further noted that she and other young people living with HIV face challenges of inequalities, discrimination and violence mostly perpetuated by teachers.
Another struggle she mentioned is that of accessing health services. She urged that youths be empowered and included in projects and decision-making processes and policy drafting that concern them. The Maputo Protocol was adopted by the African Union (AU) on July 11, 2003, at its second summit in Maputo, Mozambique and on November 25, 2005, having been ratified by the required 15-member nations of the AU the protocol entered into force.
As of July 2020, out of the 55 member countries in the AU, 49 had signed the protocol while 42 had ratified and deposited it. The states that have neither signed nor ratified the Protocol yet are Botswana, Egypt, and Morocco. The states that have signed but not yet ratified are Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, Eritrea, Madagascar, Niger, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan.