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Statement by Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, Regional Director for UNFPA East and Southern Africa, at the Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS Second Regular Session 2018 on 4 September in New York. 

Madam President,
Distinguished Members of the Executive Board,
Distinguished Delegates (from the Permanent Missions of Burundi, Comoros, DRC, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia and South Sudan)

Good evening.

I am very pleased to be able to complement the presentations of the Regional Directors of West and Central Africa and the Arab States, by presenting highlights from East and Southern Africa.

At the start of the Board session yesterday, our Executive Director asked the question: “What does ICPD mean to you and the women and girls of your countries?” In East and Southern Africa, ICPD (International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994) is about developing sustainable human capital and especially among our most abundant human capital – our young people.  

In this region, young people are, and will remain, at the centre of the development and poverty reduction agenda. We are committed to promoting their health, wellbeing, rights and resilience. Indeed, the UNFPA Strategic Plan, its Bull’s Eye – universal sexual and reproductive health and right, and the three transformative results, come to life through young people.

In this regard, allow me through a youth lens to present highlights of our support in the region, including the five country programmes and two extensions that are before you for approval.

Distinguished Members of the Board,

182 million diverse and special young people between the ages of 10 to 24, represent 33 per cent of the region’s 561 million people, and make up the lion’s share of the beneficiaries we serve.

These young people have the potential to transform the social and economic trajectory of the African continent – when smart investments are made in their health, education, empowerment and employment. UNFPA advocates for this through the Demographic Dividend agenda, emphasizing that these right investments must start early, especially for the adolescent girl, and must adopt a life-course approach. 

Unfortunately, in this region, many girls fall pregnant far too early, especially those forced into child marriage, or are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Many face risky childbirth, unsafe abortions and HIV infection, and many will become single parents and drop out of school. As a young single mother with an incomplete education, economic and general life prospects are curtailed and this impacts not only her life course but that of her family, community and the nation at large.

In South Sudan, where adolescent pregnancy rates, child marriage, obstetric fistula and gender-based violence remain tragically high, life is dire for girls, many of whom are among the 1.9 million internally displaced and 2.4 million South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries.

Emerance is one of the Burundian refugees who managed to find shelter in Mahama Refugee Camp in Rwanda – but she has to isolate herself when she has her periods as she does not have access to quality and regular menstrual health products. Menstrual inequality, from menarche to menopause, drives vulnerability in many parts of the region and that is why, in May this year, in partnership with the Government of South Africa, UNFPA held Africa’s first-ever regional menstrual health symposium and established the African Coalition on Menstrual Health Management.  This has provided important new entry points for our sexual and reproductive health and rights work, including through innovation and among young people with disabilities.

Recognizing that religion, culture and tradition matter in our context, UNFPA, through the End Child Marriage and FGM Joint Programme with UNICEF and UN Women, has been working with faith-based and cultural leaders like Chieftainess Malerotholi Seeiso of Malawi, to have child marriages annulled and get girls back in school. Under the new EU/UN Spotlight Initiative, Malawi will benefit from enhanced efforts to address sexual and gender-based violence.

In Namibia, we have and will continue to work closely with partners, including with the First Lady on the ‘Be Free and Break Free’ campaign, which adopts an intergenerational approach to empowering young people with integrated sexual and reproductive health, HIV and GBV information, life skills and services. The Sweden-funded regional 2gether 4 Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Programme allows us to reinvigorate our efforts around HIV prevention in Southern Africa, the epicentre of the epidemic.

While the HIV risk is typically higher among young girls, in Lesotho, ‘herd boys’ also have specific vulnerabilities when it comes to access to sexual and reproductive health. The new Country Programme will pay special attention to the sexual and reproductive health needs of men and boys, while addressing one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the region.

In Burundi and Comoros, UNFPA has capacitated young people as key change makers in promoting and maintaining peace. Through the Peace Building Fund, young people’s capacity will continue to be built around social cohesion and conflict prevention.

In South Sudan, with funding from Canada and Sweden, UNFPA has supported the training of over 600 midwives under the current programme, while the new programme seeks to ensure ‘a midwife at every birth’ and especially, at every teen birth. This will be complemented by the roll out of the ‘One-stop centre model’ for survivors of gender-based violence.

Through our work to ensure the availability and analysis of well-disaggregated population-based data, we have supported the capacity building of young statisticians and, in partnership with national statistical offices, conducted population and housing censuses in a number of countries, including Madagascar, which had not had a census for 25 years, and the ongoing digital census in Malawi, which started on Monday this week.  UNFPA will support the censuses in Namibia, the DRC and South Sudan under their new programmes.

Mr. President, distinguished Members of the Board

The five country programmes presented today represent US$143.4 million in total and, only with your continued support, would we be able to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.

I thank you.