Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from across Rwanda and the region are calling on governments to renew their commitment to improve Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). The call was made by the organisation on November, 19 in a meeting that brought together 45 CSOs and government institutions seeking to engage them ahead of the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) that is due to be held in South Africa in December 2021. The conference will together Ministries of Health, and Education from over 20 countries including Rwanda where they will seek to reaffirm the East and Southern Africa (ESA) Commitment on Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights The joint Call to Action, endorsed by more than 130 community and youth-led organisations from across the region, demands urgent action to ensure the rights of adolescents are upheld. Capitalise on achievements Speaking at the opening of the meeting in Kigali, Dr Athanase Rukundo, the Senior Director of Programs at Health Development Initiative (HDI) said that although many countries have made important strides towards expanding access to sexual and reproductive health services and improving the quality of sexuality education, there are still many young people across the region who continue to be left behind. “This renewal is a unique opportunity for governments to take stock of the progress that has been made almost ten years since the first commitment was made and to put forward a new and more ambitious vision to improve young people’s health and future,” he said. He reminded that with the COVID-19 lockdowns, school and healthcare closures and limited access to online learning opportunities have further deepened health and gender inequalities among young people. “At the same time, mounting pressure is preventing schools, teachers and healthcare workers from delivering age-responsive sex education and broader health services. There is also growing opposition that is discouraging the adequate delivery of these vital information and services,” he said. He reminded that now more than ever, governments need to commit to protecting young people’s health and support them transition into adulthood. “Rising opposition to comprehensive sexuality education and broader sexual and reproductive health risks exposing a generation to more teenage pregnancies and increased HIV infections at a time when they are trying to survive the impact of Covid-19. The time to secure their future is now,” he said. On his part, the Director of the Career Guidance and Inclusive Education at Rwanda Education Board, Eugene Fixer Ngoga explained that as of today, Comprehensive Sexuality Education is being implemented in all public schools in Rwanda. However, he pointed out that cultural and religious beliefs continue to complicate the delivery of the lessons to students. “Our culture has been very reserved when it comes to talking about sex education. Some people view it as encouraging young people to have sex but that is not true. Instead, it promotes the reduction of the frequency of unprotected sex, the reduction of the number of sexual partners, the increase of the use of protection and unintended pregnancy, STIs and critical thinking about relationships,” he said. The numbers According to the most recent Rwanda HIV Impact Assessment (RPHIA), among young people aged 15-24 years, 8.7 percent reported having sexual intercourse before the age of 15 years (11.9 percent among the male and 5.7 percent among the female population). HIV prevalence was approximately two or more times more in older adolescent girls and young women (ages 15-24 years) as compared to older adolescent boys and young men. However, five percent of adolescent women aged 15-19 are already mothers or are pregnant with their first child. Adolescent women with secondary education (3%) are less likely to have begun childbearing than young women with primary education (7%). Teenage childbearing decreases by wealth, with 8% of adolescent women in the lowest quintile compared to 3% of young women in the highest wealth quintile. The proportion of young people (15-24) with comprehensive knowledge about HIV has declined since 2014-15, from 65% to 59% among young women and from 64% to 57% among young men. The percentage of young women aged 18-24 who had sexual intercourse before age 18 decreases with increasing education, from 32% among those with no education to 5% among those with more than a secondary education. Looking at the statistics provided by Rwanda HIV Impact Assessment (RPHIA), young people with knowledge on CSE had less chances of contracting HIV and risks of unintended pregnancy. Since the introduction of CSE in schools, it has demonstrated a positive impact on sexual and reproductive health (SRH), notably in contributing to reducing STIs, HIV and unintended pregnancy.