They were lively and lovely, and they moved me close to tears. The Angolan teenaged girls I met told me about their dreams and the barriers they face to achieving what is simply normal elsewhere – finishing primary school, graduating from high school, protecting themselves from unplanned pregnancy and HIV, being safe from male aggression, living and loving in peace and harmony, and having a better future than their parents.
No matter how often I hear these stories, I still feel frustrated about the slow pace of change in redressing unfairness and inequalities in society. At the same time, I am re-energized in my faith in our work. We are achieving strong results in guaranteeing sexual and reproductive health and rights for girls, women and youth in the region, but we need to do so much more.
This year ends our Regional Programme Action Plan 2014-2017, which has focused on women and young people as our priorities. We are closing this phase with a slew of impressive achievements, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – especially Goal 3 on Health, Goal 4 on Education and Goal 5 on Gender Equality.
All of our Country Offices have a strong youth programme, which ranges from Innovation Accelerators for young social entrepreneurs to comprehensive sexuality education.
In Southern Africa, which has the world’s highest rates of HIV infection, we have invested heavily in the integration of HIV and sexual and reproductive health services, a proven strategy to maximize efficient use of resources and achieve better results.
Our DFID-funded flagship programme Preventing Maternal Deaths in East and Southern Africa (PreMDESA) ensured provision of family planning to 3.4 million users and training of more than 6,000 providers on a wider choice of contraceptives.
Simmering conflict in the Great Lakes region and floods and drought in Southern Africa required a quick and sustained response from UNFPA. We provided health care and support for the most vulnerable – pregnant women, mothers, girls and survivors of gender-based violence – in humanitarian settings. We strengthened midwifery services across the region, especially in war-torn South Sudan.
Looking forwards, UNFPA’s new Strategic Plan 2018-2021 reflects our commitment to excellence and to achieving transformative results – ending unmet need for family planning, ending preventable maternal deaths, and ending violence and harmful practices against women.
Our new Regional Programme is aligned to the SDGs and to the African Union’s 2063 Roadmap for the continent’s socioeconomic transformation, which emphasizes women and youth as drivers of development.
We are inspired in our work by the words of our new Executive Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem: “This is a pivotal moment for UNFPA. Our mandate has never been more relevant, our goals more ambitious, or the environment in which we work more complex. The new transformative results adopted with the new Strategic Plan are ambitious aims. We need to be bold, focused and resourceful in forging ahead. And we need the ideas, insights, energy and innovation that every staff member brings.” There is a wonderful synergy operating in East and Southern Africa (ESA) towards a future built on equality, inclusiveness and universal enjoyment of rights.
The future is here. Our commitment to the rights of women and young people in ESA is unflinching, now more than ever. Hand in hand with our partners, stakeholders and beneficiaries, we shall continue to transform the lives of women and girls in the region.
Dr. Julitta Onabanjo Regional Director UNFPA East and Southern Africa