This article was originally published on Impatient Optimists by Jennifer Ehidiamen on July 02, 2013
Today in Africa, women in power have considered it important to synergize and address issues affecting women and girls in Africa, said Professor Viola Onwuliri, during her opening remark. Professor Onwuliri is Nigeria’s minister of foreign affairs and soon to be president of GlobalPower Women Network Africa GPWNA.
Here is a reminder of why this matters.
There are about 23.5 million people living with HIV in sub-saharan Africa. Less than 30% of young women have a clear understanding of what HIV is all about. Of 287,000 maternal deaths, 162,000 occurred in African region in 2010. We have 1 female condom for every 10 women in Africa. African women constitute 58% of all people living with HIV. And the list goes on and on.
From the statistics above, albeit somewhat startling, one can deduce the urgent need to accelerate the implementation of the global and regional commitments for women and girls, gender equality and HIV/AIDS in Africa; and the adoption of post-2015 priorities in the region.
What does it really mean to accelerate actions needed to improve women and girls’ health and well being in Africa? Of what relevance is it to our society? I’ll be speaking with some leaders/key players at the on-going GlobalPower Women Network Africa HLM to get their views.
But first, here is a summary of how the opening ceremony went today.
Like I captured in an earlier post, the 2nd GPWNA HLM kicked off today in Abuja. The event had in attendance President Goodluck Jonathan, Africa’s leading female presidents of Malawi and Liberia, Joyce Banda and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; GPWNA executives, including the president of the network, Hon. Thokozani Khupe, the deputy prime minister of Zimbabwe; representatives of UN agencies including the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe; representatives from the AU, ECOWAS, Ministers and other representatives from all sectors of the African region. Trust me, the room was loaded with leaders from Ethiopia to Zambia to other countries.
The purpose of the gathering was to deliberate and identify best strategies in tackling the issues affecting women and girls, gender equality and HIV/AIDS and other reproductive health and rights issues. In addition, mobilize support and commitment from government leaders and other stakeholders to actualise the implementation of the global and regional commitment as well as the adoption of post 2015 priorities and recommendations for an accelerated action on treaties/declarations.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during her speech noted the remarkable improvement on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
“HIV is no longer a death sentence,” the President of Liberia said.
But she pointed out that there is still a lot of work to be done. She advocates for a global focus on ending violence against women. She also raised the need for women and girls to be given a voice in the society through economic participation.
Sirleaf says achieving MDG 2 will prevent all other forms of violence against women and girls. When women have access to basic education, they are able to venture out to be economically independent and with that comes the will power to protect themselves and their family members from all forms of oppression and suppression.
To achieve this, we need the full commitment of women leaders everywhere.
“It is up to us women everywhere to become the advocates, promoters and facilitators to ensure these goals are implemented…the time is now…!” said Sirleaf.
While giving her opening statement, the outgoing president of GPWNA, Thokozani Khube, the Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, said that the objective of GPWNA is to advance innovative game changing approaches that positively impact the lives of women and girls.
She said that women do not have the full enjoyment of their freedom. She points out the importance of womanhood to our society through the acronym WOMAN – Workers, Organizers, Managers, Advisers, Nation-builders.
Women ministers should ensure women interests are promoted and protected. She openly recommended that President Goodluck Jonathan ensure GPWNA is included in the agenda of African Union.
Africans often look outside for solutions to local challenges. To effect the kind of changes we want, we need to quit looking out. We want to ensure our voices are heard. Humanitarians won’t develop our continent. Empowering women will, the deputy Prime Minister noted.
But the GPWNA is not all talk. “Transform your signature into action,” Khube says to the leaders and stakeholders.
We want to see action.
Women are leaders in their own right.
Michel Sidibe, the UNAIDS Executive Director described the HLM as a timely meeting. He also said Africa is making progress. According to him, almost Eight million people have access to treatment in Africa. There is reduction in AIDS related death and a record of decline in new infection.
Sidibe punctuates the good records with a startling comment: “But we are failing women in our continent.”
For this reason, Sidibe suggests GPWNA go beyond just being a platform to becoming a movement in order to reverse the negative trend of the impact of HIV/AIDS.
Young girls between 18-24 do not have access to information on how they can protect themselves. They need education and economic empowerment.
Gender inequality, exclusion are not just numbers or statistics, Sidibe noted. Every woman and girl must get the opportunity that ensures their lives are protected and are able to grow and contribute to development.
To end AIDS we need to end gender inequality.
Ngozi Okonjo Iweala inaugurated GPWNA in Zimbabwe for the first time when it was launched.
She reaffirmed the need to keep promoting gender equality and women empowerment and rights.
Of the 34million living with HIV in the world, about 69% live in Africa. Women comprise 50% of those infected with HIV. Young women 15-24years represent those most susceptible to HIV infection.
“For women to succeed, we have to leverage men. Be we have to properly select those who we leverage so they don’t deleverage us (when they get there),” Okonjo-Iweala said.
Nigeria’s Finance Minister ends her remark quoting Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black President:
“It is important that government structures understand that true freedom and prosperity cannot be achieved unless …we see in visible and practical terms that the condition of women in our country has radically changed for the better, and that they have been empowered in all spheres of life as equal.”
In Malawi, over half of the population are tested and know their HIV status, the President of Malawi, Joyce Bada, revealed today during her goodwill message.
Africa needs to pay greater attention to girl education and promote activities that will economically empower women. Income generation is critical for women, she said.
She gave her submissions, as follows:
Africa also needs to open space for women to get into leadership position. Political will is important in addressing issues that affect women and girls. It depends on who is on the seat of power. The more women, the more chances of promoting women interest.
Traditional and cultural beliefs that are harmful should be eradicated. To achieve this, there is need to engage traditional leaders in all efforts at the grassroots.
There is need to invigorate women movement in Africa. Women should stand united and speak with one voice. And most importantly, keep government leaders accountable.
It is also important to promote inclusive action and engage different groups of women. And of course, male involvement cannot be pushed aside. There is need for women and men to work together.
The President of Nigeria, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, in his address said creativity, hardwork etc is not the exclusive right of any sex. He urged nations, communities, individuals etc to encourage the education of the girl-child.
“Remove structural barriers militating against the women,” he said.
In Africa, to fight AIDS, we must also fight poverty, President Goodluck said. Education is the most powerful tool to fight poverty.
President Goodluck was during the event described as one the most gender-friendly president. (Or was he the most?). He was awarded by the GPWNA for his continuous support in promoting women empowerment and participation in leadership position.
The business of all talk and no action will not accelerate the implementation of any strategy.
In the words of the President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, HIV and AIDS still wear the face of women and girls. To eradicate this challenge, all we need is to take more action. I agree.