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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Meaningful youth participation and partnership is critical to realizing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of youth across Africa. We need to ensure the needs of young people are heard and understood, said Justine Coulson, Deputy Regional Director for UNFPA East and Southern Africa.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) outcomes for young people are crosscutting with many other issues, such as education, employment, peace and security, and civic participation, she said. Speaking on behalf of Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, UNFPA Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, at the opening of the Youth Pre-Conference of the 8th African Conference on Sexual Health and Rights, Ms. Coulson encouraged youth SRHR advocates to build alliances beyond SRHR circles with youth organizations and networks.

UNFPA is committed to increasing support for platforms like AfriYAN (African Youth and Adolescent Network on Population and Development) and Youth Advisory Panels. "We are in a better place than we were 20 years ago with respect to SRHR for young people, but we need young people themselves to help us understand how much more needs to be done," she said.

Jayathma Wickramanayake, UN Envoy on Youth, said that while progress is being made with respect to education on adolescent sexual and reproductive health, there are still cultural taboos to overcome. Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is rarely taught in schools in low-income countries, she said. Meaningful youth participation in the conversation is highly critical at this point, especially in finding ways in which international bodies can partner with young people to implement programmes, and to offer capacity building and financing to deliver on data collection and expected goals.

South African Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, said the government is committed to national Vision 2030 and the empowerment of young girls and women, in line with the legacy of Nelson Mandela, to end all forms of discrimination against women. "Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of discrimination," he said.

UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem is to give a keynote address at the youth pre-conference on February 13.

The youth event was organized jointly by the African Commission and Youth Lab (an organization that mainstreams youth issues though dialogue, research, capacity building and training).