There is growing optimism that Africa is rising, partly hinged on the demographic transition that a number of countries are experiencing. However experts warn that Africa must take concrete actions in order to reap the demographic dividend. The President of Ghana, Mr John Mahama expressed urgent need for Africa to do more for the youth if they are going to participate more actively in economic development. He said this while delivering an opening speech at the 7th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights which was held under the theme “Realizing the demographic dividend in Africa: The critical importance of Adolescents and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights” held in Accra Ghana, from the 10th-12th of February, 2016.
The conference was organized by Curious Minds under the patronage of the First Lady of the Republic of Ghana and the President of the African First Ladies Against HIV&AIDS, Dr Nana Mahama. The conference attracted over 600 delegates including 12 African first ladies, ministers, senior officers of United Nations Agencies, technocrats, parliamentarians, civil society, traditional institutions, youth activists and development partners.
Dr Babatunde Osetimehin the Executive Director of the United Nations Populations Fund who delivered the key note address reinforced the importance of investing in the health of the people, particularly women and girls in the areas of their sexual and reproductive health, their capacities in the expansion of their opportunities to realize their full potential and to achieve sustainable development.
At a pre conference meeting of African Centers for Excellence (ACE) partners collectively reflected on how Africa can reap the demographic dividend and identified concrete strategic and operational actions that can be taken by Africa. ACE Director Saba Gebremedhin summarized the outcomes needed to achieve the demographic dividend as: the need to invest in quality education, ensure reduction of fertility rates especially strengthening family planning, and champion inclusive development.
Tsigie Haile the Executive Director of Women in Self Employment in Ethiopia said macroeconomic policies including monetary and fiscal policies to promote a saving culture and micro insurance schemes were needed to prepare Africa for old age. She shared the experience of her organization where a micro insurance scheme was adopted for the poor women to buttress them when they are no longer in position to work.
Commenting on the theme of the conference, the Executive Director of Young Women’s Leadership Institute, Ms Esther Kimani said that Comprehensive Sexuality Education for adolescents and youth was the missing link to help address teenage pregnancy. She underscored the fact that Comprehensive Sex Education helps young women to make the right choices and avoid mistakes leading to girls delaying their first sexual debut, retention in school and reduction of fertility rates.
Ms Mary Balikungeri the Executive Director of Rwanda Women’s Network, an organization championing gender equality, proposed that it is critical to promote safe spaces for young women and adolescents to provide a secure and healthy environment to prevent gender based violence and respect for reproductive health rights.
The conference ended on a high note with the first Lady Mrs Lordina Mahama launching the Ending Child Marriage Campaign Ghana. In her address, the First Lady, stated that ending child marriage on the continent was critical to realization of the Sustainable Development Goals on gender equality and poverty. She urged African Heads of State to enforce legislation they passed on the marriageable age for girls at 18, in their respective countries.
Eunice Musiime- Executive Director -Akina Mama wa Afrika