Adolescent Girls and Young Women’s Strategy Launch

Honorable Ministers, I want to start by congratulating His Excellency President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, the Ministries of Health, Education, Gender and Social Welfare, and Labour and Youth who have worked so hard to bring us to this day.  Ambassador Palmer regrets that she cannot attend, but asked me to highlight her continued commitment – and the continued commitment of the United States – to work with each of you to protect, nurture and inspire adolescent girls and young women.

Today’s launch is the culmination of efforts that began in December 2016, when President Mutharika met with global leaders in the fight to promote education, girls’ empowerment and the fight against HIV and committed to create this strategy.  Malawi is now one of the very first countries in the world to have drafted and launched a comprehensive Adolescent Girls and Young Women or “AGYW” strategy.  I want to again thank President Mutharika, a ‘He for She’ advocate in his own right, for his commitment to improving the lives of Adolescent Girls and Young Women and ensuring they meet their full potential.

A future of health, education, and economic prosperity is stolen from too many adolescent girls and young women as a result of limited space in secondary school, pressures to meet their own needs for food and shelter, sexual violence, and childbearing when they are still children themselves. With the launch of the AGYW strategy, we are all saying that this is unacceptable, and we are all committing to work together, breaking down silos.  By doing so, the collective impact of these coordinated efforts will be so much greater than efforts by individual actors.  This Strategy includes indicators to which we all will be held to account. For example, reduced HIV incidence – let’s keep these young women HIV free.  And decreased fertility rates, which will allow girls to stay in school and earn an education, paving a path towards a brighter economic future for themselves, their families and this nation.

But what does the AGYW Strategy and our respective roles in it mean, in real terms?  Let’s imagine an adolescent Malawian girl, like Chimwemwe, who Johannes discussed in his remarks.  Collective research tells us that she will leave school and will not return.  She probably will not seek medical care throughout her pregnancy and if she does, it is unlikely that she’ll receive care from a health care provider who recognizes her unique needs as an adolescent, still a child herself.  Once she has her first child, she will not return to school, but instead will undertake the responsibilities for her new household and continue to have children.  Having left school, she will have no viable path to earn a good living, much less live independently should the need arise.

Now let’s imagine this same girl with the AGYW Strategy mechanisms firmly in place.  In this scenario, our young girl also becomes pregnant and stops attending school.  But this time, her teacher notices and coordinates with the School Management Committee and District to ensure that she receives a visit at home and follow-up support.  Through coordinated support from a network of actors, she receives targeted medical and nutrition advice about her pregnancy, she is encouraged to return to school until she gives birth, and she is referred to the local health center.  At the health center, this young woman meets with a care provider who delivers youth-friendly health services. The clinician explains ways to maintain a healthy pregnancy and childbirth, and outlines warning signs. The provider also begins to counsel her on sexual and reproductive health following delivery. After she gives birth, someone from the district reaches out to the young woman’s family to ensure she returns to school and receives a bursary for school expenses.  This support convinces her parents to help care for her newborn baby, as she reintegrates back into school.

All of this happens as a result of coordinated district-level actors that together ask – “how can we work together to support this young woman?”  None of this coordination among government officials, community-based non-governmental organizations and donor partners would be possible without each of you here and the organizations that you represent.  We each play a role in turning to our neighboring Ministry partner, non-governmental or faith-based partner to ask – how are you contributing to National Strategy for Adolescent Girls and Young Women? And how might we collaborate?

Let us look to this Strategy launch as a new opportunity – where public officials, district governments, and development partners actively seek to identify opportunities to work across Ministries and sectors.  In this first year, let’s use the momentum of this launch to move beyond meetings and process, to implement the strategy and to meet or surpass the strategy’s indicators.  Let us roll-out a functional national referrals system that ensures coordination across the relevant line ministries -so that health, youth, social welfare, and education staff truly are working alongside each other at a district level.

For our part, the United States will continue to work arm-in-arm with all of the actors in this Strategy, building on the strong foundation of partnership with UNICEF, the line Ministries and civil society, to see that it is fully implemented and accomplishes its vision, goals, and objectives.  The United States has already funded two Global Health Corps Fellows who will support the newly established AGYW Secretariat to work across Ministries to translate this strategy into implementation.  We are also committed to leading the charge to strengthen donor partner and non-governmental coordination to ensure more effective use of resources.

These efforts will complement existing U.S. support for Adolescent Girls and Young Women.  The United States will continue to invest in programs that support the strategy such as the PEPFAR DREAMS public-private partnership that takes whole-of-girl approach to reduce the risk of HIV –including education support, post violence care and prevention, and HIV prevention services.  And an up to $90 million investment in expanding access to secondary school for youth in Malawi will help keep girls in school and reduce their lifetime risk of acquiring HIV.

Once again, I want to congratulate the four ministries that have worked together to make this day a reality.  I also want to recognize the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, and the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development for exploring how to support this Strategy’s implementation.  Malawi’s adolescent girls and young women deserve this Strategy – and, more importantly, need for us to ensure its implementation.

Thank you very much.