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The United Nations (UN) system, government and NGO partners in Malawi are forging ahead in the quest to create and sustain opportunities and rights for young people especially girls through the UN Joint Programme on Adolescent Girls (JPAG).

JPAG is being implemented in two districts in Malawi; Mangochi in Traditional Authority Katuli and Chikwawa in sub Traditional Authority Masache. The programme is designed to address challenges that girls face in different aspects of their lives. Through financing a range of activities, the programme supported jointly by UNFPA, UNICEF, UNESCO and WHO addresses adolescent girls’ education attendance, increases awareness and empowers girls to meaningfully participate in development activities, support the consolidation of access to sexual and reproductive health services and strengthening protection mechanisms.

 The Joint UN Programme started in 2011 with initial funding from the UN Foundation but is currently being supported by The Norwegian Government. The JPAG will go on until September, 2014, according to Ms. Jean Mwandira, Programme Officer for Reproductive Health at UNFPA, who coordinates the programme.

Ms. Mwandira explained that the multi-sectoral approach adopted by the JPAG has strengthened district collaboration amongst stakeholders over addressing issues and challenges that affect adolescent girls.

She said many girls; some of whom had dropped out school after falling pregnant or because they could not afford to get an education, have gone back to school because of the scholarships that JPAG is providing. Ms. Mwandira said some traditional leaders have instituted bylaws to combat child marriages and other forms of abuse within their communities also as a result of JPAG.

“Many girls have been taught vacation skills such as baking, tailoring and running hair salons which are making them self-reliant. Through the programme, some emerging needs have been identified such as the inclusion of other sectors such as the judiciary especially when cases of abuse are taken to court,” she said.

 It is expected that at the end of the programme, adolescent girls’ education attendance would have  improved, there will be increased access to sexual and reproductive health information and services by adolescent girls and there will be strengthened mechanisms for protection and management of sexual and gender-based violence for adolescent girls, improved Adolescent girls’ participation and leadership in youth and community development initiatives and enhanced visibility` and advocacy for the needs of adolescent girls.

Speaking during a mid-year review for JPAG stakeholders who included some beneficiaries of the programme, UNFPA Technical Adviser on Sexual and Reproductive Health Services Dr. Chris Oyeyipo said iinvestments in young people will pay great dividends in a better future for all. 

He explained that the JPAG adopts a holistic and integrated approach to solving a myriad of challenges faced by adolescent girls in Malawi and that implementing partners are encouraged to implement activities in an integrated approach, not as competitors but complimentary.

 “At the end of the day, we would like to continue seeing one adolescent girl benefiting from more than two of the available interventions. This is the critical aspect of this programme as we would like to understand the most effective combination of programme delivery. This is where it is important for the programme to ensure that all implementing partners have the same entry point to the beneficiaries; girls’ only youth clubs established by the Ministry of Youth and the NGOs that are working on JPAG,” said Dr. Oyeyipo.

He also encouraged implementing partners to improve the coordination mechanisms, monitoring and reporting at district level. Let’s discuss, at this meeting, on how best this can be done.

“The success of this programme will only be visible if we follow up on what is happening on the success stories that we have and take them to scale. We have a responsibility to forge the future with young people, advance rights for girls so that they partake in all levels of the country’s development and benefit from all its resources.

Dr. Oyeyipo said the voices of youth should be heard in meetings within the communities, in schools, in youth clubs, in government, within the United Nations and among development partners. “My colleagues and I in UNFPA, WHO, UNESCO and UNICEF and in the United Nations as a whole, are committed to advancing the right to sexual and reproductive health, and advancing gender equality because we believe that everyone counts,” he said.

The UNFPA expert also said youth participation in matters of national interest is a matter of human rights and it is also a matter of being effective at addressing the challenges that we face as humanity.  “When societies embrace youth as partners, we improve our chances of finding solutions to our most pressing problems,” said Dr. Oyeyipo.

And speaking at the same review meeting Principal Secretary for Youth and Sports Mr. Justin Saidi acknowledged the efforts that are being done by the stakeholders in the JPAG programme towards improving the lives of adolescent girls.

“Interventions in education, youth participation and gender-based violence are contributing towards the uplifting of lives of adolescent girls and the programme has facilitated collaboration among stakeholder which is one assurance for its sustainability,” said Mr. Saidi.

He acknowledged the financial support of the Royal Norwegian Embassy and the technical support from the UN agencies.

A representative from the Royal Norwegian Embassy Ms. Lugede Chiumia said at the review meeting that addressing challenges the girl child faces in Malawi would break the\ cycle of poverty in Malawi.

“There is need to utilise the opportunity of the election period as a platform to empower adolescent girls to be leaders and advocates,” said Ms. Chimera.

Through financing a range of activities, the JPAG addresses adolescent girls’ education attendance, increasing awareness and empowering girls to meaningfully participate in development activities in Malawi, support the consolidation of access to sexual and reproductive health services and protect adolescent girls from all forms of gender based violence, abuse exploitation and ensure that girls who experience violence receive prompt medical, psychosocial and legal aid services through strengthening protection mechanisms.