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The Education Plus Initiative is a high-level drive to expand access to secondary education for all young people and to advance adolescent girls’ and young women's health, education and rights in sub-Saharan Africa. The initiative uses advocacy to secure commitments and investments so that young people enroll and complete secondary school, for the sake of improved knowledge, social skills, health and earnings potential.  It is also a rights-based, gender-responsive action agenda to ensure that adolescent girls and young women have equal opportunities to access quality secondary education, alongside key education and health services and support for their economic autonomy and empowerment.


This is an Africa-wide joint advocacy initiative that identifies five interventions to which every adolescent girl and young woman should be entitled: completion of quality secondary education; universal access to comprehensive sexuality education; fulfillment of sexual and reproductive health and rights including HIV prevention; freedom from gender-based and sexual violence; and successful school-to-work transitions and young women’s economic security and empowerment. The initiative will build on six pillars of high-level advocacy, strategic partnerships, ensuring young women's leadership, think tanks with researchers and experts, multi-media outreach, and a data hub for advocacy and communication to support decision-makers.


“I wish to call upon all other stakeholders to join this initiative and in our collective efforts; and make this ambitious initiative a reality. On behalf of the Department of Basic Education, I wish to accept the support we are receiving from the UN agencies and further declare our commitment to collaborate and cooperate with you for the greater benefit of the child,” declared Regina Mhaule, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Education, in her capacity as a political champion of adolescent girls and young women agenda including the ESA Commitment and Education Plus Initiative, This drive to keep girls in secondary education comes in response to the many challenges that disproportionately affect young girls in sub-Saharan Africa, including alarming numbers of adolescent and young girls  affected by HIV-AIDS, unintended pregnancies, gender-based violence and femicide, all of which impact negatively on their further education,  well-being, human rights and survival.


Young women between the ages of 15 and24 are the group most affected by new HIV infections. “In South Africa, around 200 000 people are infected with HIV every year, including more than 150 new infections daily among adolescent girls and young women aged 15-24 years,” said Eva Kiwango, UNAIDS Country Director South Africa.  She further noted that the Education Plus Initiative recognises education systems as an entry point for providing holistic packages of core elements that adolescents need to become well-rounded adults.


According to the South African Department of Basic Education, 132 000 girls between the ages of 10 and 19 fell pregnant in the 2020/2021 financial year. More according is that, according to the Department, 1 in 3 girls that fall pregnant in South Africa will not return to school.


“The girl child of South Africa is an extremely challenged human being at home, in the community and religiously through social norms that put them at the bottom of the value chain,” said Thembisile Xulu, Chief Executive of the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC). Ms Xulu welcomed the initiative and pledged the organisation’s full support and commitment. “At school, especially in the early grades, is where we have the opportunity to truly shape the mind of a young girl,” she added.


In the spirit of never leaving behind young people in the conversations about them, the launch of the Education Plus Initiative was attended by learners from local secondary schools, young people’s organisations, including UNFPA’s Youth Advisory Panel members and other youth networks. These young also meaningfully engaged on the agenda as respondents after the keynote address by the Deputy Minister.


Speaking on behalf of the UN Resident Coordinator a.i and the United Nations in South Africa, UNICEF Representative, Ms. Christine Muhinga, noted that “the United Nations system wants all children and young people in South Africa to have equitable access to quality education relevant to a changing society. Today we rally political leadership, development partners and communities to fulfil every adolescent girl’s rights to education and health by enabling all girls to complete a quality, secondary education in violence-free environments. Collectively, we call for universal access to sexual and reproductive health services that are non-judgmental, stigma-free for adolescent girls and young women in all their diversity, including those living with HIV.”


To achieve the intended objectives of the initiative, strategic allies in government, civil society and other development partners are expected to leverage access and support of the UN family and other possible donors. Further, an intentional pursuit of an investment case to policy-makers and investors by showcasing the multiple returns of increasing investments in education is needed It will also be critical to target key policy and legislative reforms to protect the fundamental rights of adolescents and youth, and speed-up the removal of restrictive and gender-discriminatory provisions that undermine the impact of existing investments.


The initiative aims to mobilize coalitions and networks including those of women, youth and civil society organizations, networks of women and girls living with HIV, teacher and parent associations, and cultural and faith leaders, and to establish a vibrant platform for adolescent girls and young women to strengthen accountability and ensure the participation of community leaders.