For Lebogang Brenda Motsumi, 27, accessible sexual and reproductive health services would have changed her life. A passionate advocate for youth-friendly services and sexuality education, she has faced personal struggles with early pregnancy and is now living with HIV.

She gave her testimony at a high level government dialogue organized by UNESCO on the sidelines of the 2016 AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa (18-22 July, 2016). 

“I believe if I had received education that taught me about my rights and how to express my sexuality safely, it would have given me the skills to negotiate condom use,” she said. “If I had been able to access youth-friendly health services while growing up, I would be a very different person today,” she said.

Her story is a daily reality for many young people in the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) region. That is why ministers and representatives from government, development, and civil society, came together to mark progress made in the two years since the endorsement of the landmark 2013 ESA Commitment, in which 20 ESA countries committed to scaling-up comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for young people

The meeting, entitled Fulfilling Our Promise To Young People Today, also featured the launch of the 2013-2015 ESA Commitment Progress Report. This event, organized by UNESCO with UNAIDS, UNFPA and other partners in the region, was an opportunity for representatives to review progress towards the ESA Commitment 2015 targets, share best practices and determine next steps to ensure the region meets its commitments for the 2020 targets, including reducing rates of HIV, child marriage and gender-based violence.

They also affirmed the Step Up and Deliver Commitment, to accelerate action for young people’s access to CSE and SRHS. At a high-level meeting prior to the event UNESCO Regional Director for Southern Africa, Hubert Gijzen, said: “The stakes are high. In 2014, there were nearly 1 million new HIV infections; 39 – 59 per cent of 15 – 19 year olds experienced early and unintended pregnancy, and 37.1 per cent of women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18.”

“Comprehensive sexuality education must be a key part of the solution. It can increase condom-use, and reduce rates of unprotected sex, early and unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV”.

Access Equity Rights Now

The theme of the 21st International AIDS Conference is ‘Access Equity Rights Now’, a call to work together to reach the people who still lack access to comprehensive treatment, prevention, care and support services.

The conference follows the launch of a new report by UNAIDS on trends in new HIV infections. The Prevention gap report reveals that three quarters of all new HIV infections among adolescents aged 10–19 years in ESA are among adolescent girls.

Adolescent girls are often prevented from accessing HIV services owing to gender inequality, a lack of age-appropriate HIV services, stigma, a lack of decision-making power and gender-based violence. In 2014, only 57 per cent of countries globally (of 104 countries reporting) had an HIV strategy that included a specific budget for women. Reaching these girls and young women will be a key factor in ending the AIDS epidemic

As part of this year’s conference, UNESCO and the World YWCA are supporting a policy dialogue with young women at the “Egumeni” safe space, where they can engage with policy-makers and government officials. The aim is to empower young women and build their leadership in championing their sexual and reproductive health and rights.