Archive for May 27th, 2008

Following feedback from users we set up the blog womensgrid to focus on information by and about women from around the UK and Ireland (and any European items that seem relevant).

So to see the latest UK and Ireland posting go to

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Women’s groups are hoping for a quick return to democracy so their voices can continue to be heard by the country’s leaders.

Fiji Women’s Rights Movement executive Virisila Buadromo said as long as there was a Parliament women’s issues would have a place in society.

The movement, the secretariat for Fiji’s non government organisations for women for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), is holding a three-day workshop to draw up a shadow report for Fiji.

“This event will be the first of a series of activities we will conduct as preparation begins towards compiling Fiji’s NGO-led CEDAW parallel report,” Ms Buadromo said.

“The government is due to send in its official state CEDAW report this year, We will then need to send in a parallel or shadow report next year.”

“Climate change is harder on women in poor countries, where mothers stay in areas hit by drought, deforestation or crop failure as men move to literally greener pastures.”

“Many destructive activities against the environment disproportionately affect women, because most women in the world, and especially in the developing world, are very dependent on primary natural resources: land, forests, waters,” said Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai of Kenya.

“Women are very immediately affected, and usually women and children can’t run away,” said Maathai, who won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her work on sustainable development.

“Men can trek and go looking for greener pastures in other areas in other countries … but for women, they’re usually left on site to face the consequences,” she said. “So when there is deforestation, when there is drought, when there is crop failure, it is the women and children who are the most adversely affected.”

Maathai was in Washington with 1997 Nobel Peace laureate Jody Williams, who got the award for her work in creating an international treaty to ban landmines, and both spoke to reporters at a briefing.

Williams said she saw climate change as a threat to security, and said desertification of former agricultural land fueled the conflict in Darfur.

In that case, she said, women forced to move for political and environmental reasons were more at risk than men.

As the leader of a United Nations mission on Darfur, Williams said she visited a vast refugee camp in neighboring Chad where water was scarce and women and girls were dispatched to get water from outside the camp.

“Why did the women have to go?” Williams asked. “Because if the men went, they’d be killed. If the women go, the only — only! — thing they have to face is rape.”

“If you don’t deal with development and climate, you will have an increasingly insecure world,” Williams said. “But if you’re going to deal with it, you need to deal with it in terms of climate justice.”

That meant rich countries, including the United States, must cut their own pollution and greenhouse emissions — not just offer aid for environmentally sound development.

Maathai, who founded the Green Belt Movement that started as a tree-planting program and grew into an international human rights and environmental organization, said the United States has taken a “back seat” on global environmental leadership.

“As long as the United States of America doesn’t take its leadership position, the rest of the world hides behind her and wants to say, ‘she is the greatest polluter, she isn’t doing anything, why should I do something?'” Maathai said.

As women’s groups and political activists intensify their global campaign for gender empowerment, there is a growing trend towards “gender budgeting” both among developed and developing nations.

Rawwida Baksh, team leader of Women’s Rights and Citizenship at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Canada, told IPS the concept of “gender-responsive budgeting” has been in currency since the mid-1980s.

The Australian government was the first to introduce gender budgeting in 1984, followed by Canada in 1993 and South Africa in 1994. Since then, some 50 countries worldwide have adopted some form of gender-responsive budgeting, she said.

According to some estimates, the figure may be over 60 to 70 countries which have specifically earmarked gender-related funds in their respective national budgets.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon points out that “governments are increasingly creating an enabling environment for investing in women.”

“More than 50 countries have introduced gender-sensitive budgeting,” he said, on International Women’s Day last March.

He said many member states “are abolishing laws that prohibit women’s access to land, property ownership, credits and markets.”

But women’s groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are now seeking concrete commitments on gender budgeting.

“The United Nations can help by making a strong declaration in favour of gender budgeting that requires all (192) member states to take clear steps,” says the Women’s National Commission, a non-governmental organisation with consultative status with the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Although many countries have put in place the “good practice” of gender budgeting, says the WNC, all member states must now be required to report progress regularly.

“This will identify where the money and resources are being spent, which is key to reversing the current gender bias in all the world’s economies,” the group says.

One of the issues that will come up at the international conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Qatar in late November will be increased funding for gender empowerment, including gender budgeting.

In 1995, the Beijing Platform for Action (that followed an international women’s conference in the Chinese capital that year) and the 2002 Monterrey Consensus (that followed the first FfD conference in Mexico) urged member states to recognise gender equality as an essential element of good governance and women’s empowerment as a key factor in economic development.

“And yet, we still have a long way to say,” says Ban, because “women are still severely hampered by discrimination and gender-based violence; lack resources and economic opportunities; and have limited access to decision-making.”

Baksh of IDRC said a national budget is a crucial instrument “in shaping women’s living standards and their prospects for economic empowerment”.

She listed several countries, both in the developed and developing world, which have embraced the concept of gender budgeting.

In Africa, they include: Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In the Americas, they include: Barbados, Canada, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico, and the United States. In Asia: Bangladesh, India, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam. In Europe, they include: Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, and Britain. In the Middle East and North Africa: Israel, Lebanon, Morocco. And in the Pacific: Australia, Fiji Islands.

According to “Gender Budgets Make Cents” published in 2002 by the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat, national budgets can worsen or improve the living standards of different groups of women and contribute to narrowing or widening gender gaps in incomes, health, education, nutrition, and other areas.

Baksh said national budgets can use a number of measures to promote gender equality including: specific expenditure to promote women’s empowerment, e.g., women’s health programmes, special education initiatives for girls; and government departments can promote equal employment opportunities for women and men, e.g., provision of creche facilities, parental leave provisions.

At the same time, sector budgets can promote equality between women and men, through asking about the impact of expenditure, e.g., who are the users of hospital services? Who receives agricultural support services?

A number of publications and tools on the “how to” and case study experiences of gender-responsive budgeting have been published by the Commonwealth Secretariat, IDRC, the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and other agencies, she added.

Agencies which have assisted in piloting gender-responsive budgeting in developing countries also include the U.N. Development Programme (UND) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris.

Asked to cite any concrete examples of countries earmarking funds in their budgets purely for gender empowerment, Baksh said that South Africa was a good example of a developing country that has promoted gender-responsive budgeting.

She said it was initiated in 1994 by women parliamentarians elected to the first post-apartheid parliament, and is closely linked to the end of apartheid and the introduction of a new Constitution and era which sought to tackle race and gender discrimination.

In Morocco, gender responsive budgeting has been led by the ministry of finance as a flagship action of its strategic programmes.

In the Philippines, gender-responsive budgeting has been combined with community-based poverty monitoring, and is being applied at the local government and municipal levels in Escalante and Bacolod cities.

Asked why some countries are reluctant to embrace this concept, Baksh attributed it to a number of challenges.

“Political will is a key challenge,” she said, while other obstacles include the lack of gender awareness and capacity of staff in finance ministries; the need for collaboration between finance and gender ministries; and the need for strong women’s organisations who can advocate it.

Pinaki Chakraborty, associate professor at the Centre for Development Studies in India, told IPS her country institutionalised gender budgeting at the national level in 2005. The federal budget has allocated specific funds to programmes specifically targeted to women — including on health and economic services.

Imraan Valodia, senior research fellow at the University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, said that one good example was South Africa’s decision to remove fuel taxes on kerosene. This was done on the basis that female-headed households spend a large proportion of their income on this fuel and it was a good anti-poverty measure.

South Africa has a number of specific programmes — in trade and industry protection services and social services — that are specifically geared to women, Valodia said.

In Ghana, there is a running joke that they are all becoming Italians – they can’t afford rice anymore and are eating processed pasta from Italy. These are not the poorest of the poor, these are working urban Ghanaians, according to Amrote Abdella, who runs projects to break the hunger cycle in Africa.

In Ethiopia, the price of wheat has trebled in the past year. Across the developing world, the global food crisis is biting higher and higher up the economic food chain as grain prices are driven up by a trifecta of climate change, growing demand for animal fodder and the use of grains for biofuels.

Rural Africans living on less than a dollar a day can do nothing to influence these factors, but there are ways to escape the poverty and chronic hunger trap, said Ms Abdella, an Ethiopian aid worker with the New York-based The Hunger Project, established in 1977.

She is in Australia to raise awareness about the non-government organisation’s microfinance program, which empowers women to break the cycle.

She said 80 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s food is grown by women, but they get access to only 7 per cent of agricultural assistance and 10 per cent of land. “They don’t have ownership rights to land or access to credit,” she said.

The African Woman Food Farmer Initiative is an attempt to shift that balance.

“The goal is to set up a government-recognised rural bank that is owned and led by women,” Ms Abdella said.

“[We believe] women are more careful with their spending, they are more conscious of needing to provide for the family than men.”

Since the women’s initiative started in 1999 in Senegal, the organisation has established 103 rural centres in eight African countries. The women’s bank is part of a wider “epicentre strategy”, in which a cluster of villages work together to meet their basic needs – educational, maternal health and HIV/AIDS care, animal health and agricultural.

Since 2000, 95,326 loans totalling $US5.7 million have been issued. Seventeen communities now have self-reliant government-recognised banks (no longer requiring donor funds) run by women, which fund ongoing community development. Not one of the banks has folded.

The timetable for self-reliance is about five years. “We set the vision for what they want,” she said. “We ask them is poverty and hunger something you feel you can tackle and change?”

Only when the villagers accept the possibility of that change can the project move forward.

Article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration, to which Ghana is signatory states, “Everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability ”

Accordingly, it is the aim of objective 7 of Ghana’s Disability Policy to ensure access of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) to effective health care and adequate medical rehabilitation service.

But the situation currently on the ground is said to be at variance with these declarations and objectives, according to some 20 women with disabilities who participated in a seminar on “rights to healthcare for women with disabilities.”

The women, drawn from the various associations under the Ghana Federation of the Disabled (GFD), took part in the seminar on Tuesday in Accra. It was organized by the federation with support from the Alliance for Reproductive Health Rights (ARHR).

The participants established, for example, that persons with hearing impairment often do not receive the desired medical attention due to misinterpretation of sign language by doctors. They identified, therefore, the need for government to train more sign language interpreters to be deployed to various health facilities to assist doctors in this regard.

Also, persons with physical disabilities always have difficulty climbing onto medical examination beds because these facilities are too high. In addition, Miss Ruth Odoi of the Ghana Society for the Physically Disabled (GSPD) complained that calipers were too expensive and many of them could not afford.

Ms Nana Yaa Agyeman of Sharecare Ghana lamented that the special condition of people with autoimmune diseases or diseases of the central nervous system had not been factored into the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).

Autoimmune diseases arise from an overactive immune response of the body against substances and tissues normally present in the body. In other words, the body attacks its own cells. There are over 40 human diseases classified as either definite or probable autoimmune diseases and almost all of them appear without warning or apparent cause. There is as yet no cure for autoimmune diseases, but the symptoms are largely manageable with drugs.

According to Ms Agyeman, the condition of people with this disease is so peculiar that it requires special attention under the NHIS.

She explained that for autoimmune conditions, every breakdown in health worsens the state of disability. The condition, therefore, requires regular medical attention; generally, once every month and medical care is very expensive.

At the end of the day, the women identified the need for government to deal with the limited access to healthcare under the NHIS. They also called for the free registration of unemployed PWDs under the NHIS.

Furthermore, they called on government to address the problem of inadequate health facilities and asked that those facilities be made disability-friendly.

The women also resolved to as often as possible protect themselves against infectious disease like sexually transmitted infections through the use of condoms. They also saw the need to go for regular checkups, breast screening and voluntary HIV/AIDS testing.

Educating the women on the health component of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Mr Sidua Hor, ARHR, said PWDs have the power to change their health conditions by alerting government and demanding their right to health from government.

Mr Charles Appiagyei, Senior Programme Officer, Action on Disability and Development (ADD), wondered whether Ghana was pursuing healthcare delivery in line with the overall goal of the Ghana Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS) II, which is to ensure that every Ghanaian has access to good and quality healthcare.

Referring to the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s definition of health, Mr. Appiagyei said “Health is not just the absence of disease but the state of total wellbeing of the person.” Thus, it comprises a person’s physical, social, emotional and economic well-being.

Women’s rights organizations namely, African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT), Abantu for Development, Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment (WISE) and Christian Mothers Association of the Catholic Church have paid a visit to Liberian refugee women at the Buduburam refugee camp.

The purpose was to enable the women’s rights organisations express their continued support and solidarity with refugee women at the camp.

A media release stated that AWDF has for several years supported the refugee women through its grant-making programme, some of which include New Liberian Women’s Organisation, Skills Training Centre and the Liberian Refugee Women’s Organisation.

“As women’s rights organisation we recognize that as African women living on the continent each and every one of us is only a short distance away from crisis. It is therefore important that when our fellow sisters are in difficulty whatever the reason and the cause we take time to express our solidarity with them.”

The release recalled the recent demonstrations which resulted in the detention of several women at the Buduburam camp, saying that it is an indication of the need for women’s rights organisation to constantly dialogue even more directly with Liberian refugee women.

“Too often the voices of women are silenced in political process and our visit to the camp enabled over a thousand women to speak directly to women’s rights organisation about issues and challenges they as refugees face.”

Women in Ndele, a remote town in northern Central African Republic, are making a stand for their rights. The local chapter of the national women’s organisation, OFCA, has launched a campaign to alert women to their rights on issues such as female genital mutilation/cutting, early marriages and polygamy.

More than 15 percent of women in conflict-ravaged northern CAR are estimated to have experienced some form of gender-based violence, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Ndele’s women used the occasion of the opening of an OCHA office in the town in late April to make their case to the Minister for Social Affairs and the Family, Solange Pagonendji N’dakala.

“We live in a traditional society which still looks down upon us. Our rights are ignored, we are victims of violence and our young girls are not spared either,” said Marguerite Zanaba, head of the local chapter of the organisation.

“Since we are so far from the centre of power [the capital, Bangui], men tend to regard traditional laws as entrenched … We respect our traditions, they are part of our culture, but the world is changing; women in other countries have changed, their societies respect them, while here it’s the opposite,” said Zanaba.

“Have you seen the excision that is practised in this region, while it has been or is about to be abolished in other countries?”

“Our young girls as young as nine to 13 years still suffer the removal of their clitoris, they become sexually handicapped,” one Muslim woman, who asked not to be identified, told visiting UN and government officials.

Although legislation exists to protect women in CAR, according to Zanaba few are aware of its significance. “We have heard of a family law but we are not too sure of the contents. It needs to be better explained.”

She also called for the abolition of polygamy, saying it created tensions among children over inheritance issues.

“Most of us are Muslim women and we cannot do anything that goes against our society, which is very respectful of the Koran. We are reduced to having children and even our young daughters have no future,” she said.

“The government must do something to prevent our children from getting into marriage too early. They are too young for polygamous households. They get unwanted pregnancies too early, others die while giving birth; we want our children to go to school to help us while we rot in our homes,” said Zanaba.

Zanaba says their campaign is going “to sensitise people who have been victims, as well as the entire population, on women’s rights. We want to put an end to the violence and harmful practices done to women and young girls.”

Zanaba is certain the effects of this sensitisation “will demand respect from the men and we will start being consulted in making the decisions”.

The minister seemed sympathetic. “I am a woman, a mother just like you. I know what you go through here.

“There is a family law, it has just been revised, you will be sent a copy,” she added. “It addresses all the family problems and there is also a law that will provide for punishment for rapists.

“The men in Bamingui-Bangoran [the prefecture of which Ndele is the capital] should also read these documents and respect the content,” the minister said.

N’dakala also addressed the issue of education for young girls and urged fathers to let their girls go to school “because our country needs contributions from both girls and boys for its development”.

The Ndele association already has programmes training young girls to equip them with skills to pursue careers in sewing or the hotel industry. The association also sensitises young girls on HIV/AIDS.

Government has been asked to match words with action on its commitment to various international protocols it signed to uplift and protect the rights and integrity of women.

Launching the Malawi Women’s Forum Northern Region Chapter, women from across the divide said the government should immediately address gaps that exist concerning discrimination.

“Government should further address policy and legal gaps that exist with regard to discriminatory, statutory, customary and religious laws that deny women and girls their full and equal rights and increasing their vulnerability to HIV infection and burden of Aids,” said the women in a joint communiqué, read by the forum’s deputy chair, Hellen Mwale.

For example, Mwale said, government must look at implementation of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Law, enactment of Wills and Inheritance (Amendment) Act, Land (Amendment) Act and Right to Food Bill and HIV and Aids Legislation.

“We urge government to be exemplary on the matter of the promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls,” she said.

The women also pleaded with government to seriously urge micro credit institutions to integrate women’s rights in their conditionality, increase resources in education and health to target women and scale up broad based women’s and girl’s rights programs.

“We are profoundly concerned and aggrieved that women’s rights in the region continue to be violated and it is taking so long the government to put in place mechanism to curb the pandemic. As women, we demand meaningful participation and involvement in institutions and processes that shall guide the national responses to women’s rights,” the communiqué said.

According to the forum’s chair, Mazoe Gondwe, the grouping is part of a national initiative and comprises women from all districts in the region.

“The aim of the Women’s Forum is to end violence that women are subjected to. We are tired of being hungry, tired of being looked down upon as second class citizens, and tired of poverty or being subjected to violence,” she said.

Apart from the women, traditional chiefs, government officials and representatives from donors of the initiative, Action Aid Malawi, were at the launch.

“We are optimistic that this initiative would help enhance rights of women and that bad cultural practices that deny women their rights would also end,” Action Aids’ board chair, Alice Abillu said.

The plea by the women earned an immediate support from paramount chiefs, senior chiefs, and traditional authorities who vowed to do away with cultures that infringe on women’s rights.

“We as chiefs accept some cultures subjugate women and we condemn those. You should also know that we chiefs accept the concept of gender equality. I have never heard that anyone, from presidents to chiefs, who was born out of a man but were are fruits of a woman. Women are very important,” said Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe of Rumphi.

Giving an overview of a four day workshop on women’s rights and HIV/AIDS in Freetown, organized by AAI and African Women Development Fund West Africa (AWDF) Mary Wandia said African women have been marginalized while African women’s rights groups have been missing in action.

She said the aim of the workshop is to strengthen the leadership and collective organizational power of women’s movements, with a focus on grassroots leadership and constituency-building strategies, for sustained impact on public opinion and decision making at all levels.

Sarah Mukasa of AWDF said HIV/AIDS in Africa has the face of young African women disadvantaged in many ways. She said the responses in terms of initiated government and inter governments agency often excluded these women.

She said AWDF has been supportive to women’s organizations in order for them to live in a changed world in which transformed women can live with integrity and peace.

Action Aid Sierra Leone Country Director Tennyson Williams said women’s right /HIV/AIDS is fundamental to their programme work.

Giving an Inspirational Talk, Boi Jenneh Jalloh said strive has been made in fighting the epidemic in Sierra Leone, adding that collective voice of HIV/AIDS women is growing but the membership is not growing.

Jalloh said it is encouraging that women living with HIV/AIDS have broken the silence.

Director of the National HIV/AIDS Secretariat (NAS) Dr. Brima Kargbo said for more than 20 years into the epidemic, women account for about half of the estimated 40millionpeoplelivingwith HIV worldwide.

Kargbo said many women at risk of infection do not engage themselves in high-risk behaviors, rather they are caught up in a situation of the paradox of low risk and high vulnerability. “They are not allowed to exercise their rights, at times women in many cases become infected by their much loved ones,” he said.

The book, We Must Choose Life, was written by ordinary Namibian women under the auspices of a community-based organisation, Women Leadership Centre.

The Deputy Minister of Education, Dr Becky Ndjoze-Ojo, was the keynote speaker at the launch that was attended by invited guests and representatives of donor agencies.

“I am extremely glad to be associated with the successes, challenges and triumphs of women particularly Namibian women, as we celebrate and launch the Women Leadership Centre (WLC’s) second anthology. This anthology pays special attention to women, culture, violence and HIV and Aids,” said Ndjoze-Ojo.

In her view, Namibian women are writing and the country’s intellectual resources are growing!

“This book is about the power of women who are choosing life in every aspect of their lives. Through the written narratives compiled we gain an insight into the everyday lives of Namibian women: their experiences, fears, joys, trials and triumphs,” she said at the book launch event that was interspersed with poetry recitals, dramatisations of some of the stories and singing.

She also recounted her reading experiences of the book to the appreciative audience and said: “Reading through the stories I asked myself: Choose life instead of what? Does it simply mean choosing life instead of death through Aids, violence, abuse, carelessness or harmful cultural practices? Or does it also mean choosing life instead of a more invisible kind of death? That is food for thought!”

The anthology depicts many true-life stories about physical death, mainly because of HIV and Aids.

“There are even more stories and poems about the dying of a woman’s soul, and the withering of a woman’s spirit. We read how women die inside, die emotionally, because of the fear of being HIV positive, the pain of stigmatisation, because of continued mistreatment and humiliation, contempt, carelessness and greed, and because of the loss of basic trust in the people around them – in their husbands and friends, in their families, their churches and their communities,” she asserted.

By telling their stories, women have had the courage to bare their hurts and open their deep-seated wounds.

“By publishing this book these women are showing their stories to the world so that we, the readers, can recognise the growing tumours inside our society. It is we see these tumours, and talk about the increasing pain they are causing, so that they can be properly treated and healed,” she said.

One very visible social tumour that is exposed in many stories is the misuse of culture and tradition for hurting, abusing and humiliating women.

“I am sure that it was not easy to name and write about things that used to be taboo in many communities, and in fact still are. The authors in this anthology were obviously no longer afraid to pinpoint Namibian human rights violations, which are being justified and shamelessly applied in the name of culture – even if they are known to lead to permanent trauma or death,” she said.

Naming and exposing our social ills is the first step towards healing of individuals and thus also healing our society as a whole.

Because if one part of the society is sick, the whole society is sick, and if one half of the society is treated without respect and freedom, the whole society remains oppressed and dis-empowered.

“I have read with great pleasure and pride how women have managed to regain their spirit and reclaim their rights as fully recognised citizens of our society, recovering their humanity and dignity. And more than that, by healing themselves, they were able to help their sisters, friends and families to heal as well and to recover their humanity and dignity. This is for me the true meaning of We Must Choose Life,” she said.

At the same occasion, the Chargé d’Affaires of the Finnish Embassy, Seija Kinni-Huttunen, said violations of human rights cannot be justified by appealing to such factors as culture or religion.

“Finland’s development policy is based on the universal nature of human rights. The emphasis is on sustainable development which depends on stability and security, progress towards democratic governance based on the rule of law, the consolidation of human rights – especially the rights of women – and support for the civil society,” Kinni-Huttunen said.

In her opinion violence, and especially sexual violence, is unfortunately still a burning, topical issue in the Namibian society.

“We have all been affected by often daily media reports of rape and violence against women and girls. I am therefore very proud to have been supporting the Women’s Voices project, as the overall goal of its activities is to create a society where both men and women are truly equal, and where the dignity and integrity of women, children and men alike are respected and protected,” she said as one of the main financiers of the book.

“It is particularly delighting, that under the theme ‘We Must Choose Life’ Namibian women from all walks of life have explored their daily challenges and their rights – which often are denied from them based on culture and tradition,” she concluded.

The National Coalition of Women against HIV/AIDS said it has undertaken various intervention activities in curbing harmful traditional practices that increase vulnerability of people to HIV/AIDS infections over the past five years.

Addressing 3rd conference, Coalition Chairperson First Lady Azeb Mesfin said on Saturday that the coalition envisages encouraging active participation women at all levels against HIV/AIDS.

The coalition has designed lots of agendas focusing HIAV/AIDS prevention and control activities, she said, it also strives to provide care and support to people living with the virus.

She said the coalition has been disseminating relevant information on the pandemic in order to bring about the desired attitudinal change on the part of the public. The coalition also carried out various activities geared toward preventing harmful traditional practices across the nation.

The conference aims at discussing performance reports, future directions, and pointing out challenges observed during the past few years.

United Nations Development Program, UNAIDS, United Nations Children’s Fund and The National HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office reaffirmed support to the coalition in the years to come.

Why are condoms so unpopular? This question has baffled and discouraged health experts for a decade, but in Swaziland the mystery of why men and women refuse to use condoms is slowly being unravelled by a project that is getting Swazi men to open up about their condom use, or lack thereof.

Much has been said and written about the myths and misconceptions inhibiting condom use, but little has been done to reflect these realities in existing HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaigns.

Now, an initiative led by AIDS activist and health motivator Hannie Dlamini, and the National Emergency Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA), a government body that distributes grants to AIDS organisations, is hoping to change this by getting to the bottom of men’s attitudes towards sexual health.

Swaziland’s first Demographic Health Survey, in 2007, found that 26 percent of sexually active Swazis were infected with HIV. Although almost 99 percent of survey participants said they knew about the disease, nearly half admitted having multiple sex partners and having sex without condoms.

“Men in Swaziland do not use condoms. They are distributed all over, but they are not used,” Dlamini told IRIN/PlusNews.

For the past three years, the NERCHA project has covered two of Swaziland’s four regions: the populous central Manzini, the country’s commercial hub, and Hhohho region in the north, where the capital, Mbabane, is located. Next on the itinerary are Shiselweni in the south and Lubombo in the east.

The programme has adopted a traditional communications approach, rather than the standard method of using questionnaires, to amass data. To get the men talking, Dlamini and dramatist Modison Magagula looked to traditional Swazi customs that are still largely observed by Swazi men in rural areas, and understood by all Swazi men.

“We recreated the sihonco. This is the enclosure, like a small kraal [cattle pen], where the men go to roast meat, smoke traditional weeds, and discuss things. Women do not enter the sihonco, just as by custom men do not enter the women’s special huts. We call the AIDS awareness programme ‘kudliwe inhloko’ and that is the SiSwati term that means when men sit around and talk amongst themselves,” Dlamini explained.

Magagula’s drama troupe performs a playlet covering a specific issue, like men involved with under-age girls, which is the starting point for the discussion that follows.

About 8,000 men have participated thus far, but the organisers intend to make this an ongoing project that would eventually reach all Swazi men, to inform them about the facts on AIDS and counter peer pressure and the prevailing myths about the disease.

Hannie Dlamini commented that such word-of-mouth misinformation often served to fill the vacuum of factual knowledge, because there were almost no health educators out there regularly meeting with communities, especially in remote rural areas.

What do men really think?

“What has resulted thus far from this project is not statistics but understanding: why men behave the way they do, what their beliefs are,” said Wiseman Dlamini, a NERCHA project officer in the Manzini region.

Hannie Dlamini said the anecdotes showed a striking pattern of similarity. “The men give many reasons for not using condoms, but these are excuses. The problem is that condoms were never properly introduced to men.”

As a result, Swazi men are eager to embrace anti-condom myths as a reason to reject what they consider a foreign and unnatural intrusion into their sex lives.

“One myth we hear a lot is that condoms were made to destroy African manhood; then they say they heard that the gels in condoms shorten the size and duration of erections,” Dlamini reported.

Allergic reactions to condoms were another common excuse. “Some men are developing rashes and other problems. It is really happening to them. But other men see this and they decide condoms are dangerous. If one man gets a rash, that means the whole community will not use them,” said Dlamini.

“We tell men that if they have trouble with the rubber latex condoms, they must use a female condom, which is made of plastic. But even Swazi women are afraid of using their condoms. The men are ashamed of the suggestion. If women don’t use them, men don’t want anything to do with them,” he noted.

Bored and married

Extramarital affairs were also a topic of discussion in the men’s enclosure. According to many men who participated, sleeping with one woman all the time caused them to lose interest in sex. “They don’t get erections because every day they sleep together, so the men find excitement with other girls,” Dlamini said.

Renewing excitement in a marriage is a challenge for couples worldwide, and although marriage counselling is not what Dlamini’s project is about, AIDS prevention measures will have to take these findings into account.

“In the past, polygamy was the Swazi man’s way to avoid sexual boredom. For financial reasons that is not the option it once was, so there is a need to keep the spark going between a married man and his wife to keep him from straying,” said AIDS counsellor Patricia Dube.

Will this project make a difference? Dlamini is frank and realistic in his assessment: “It’s true that people listen, but after two days they think otherwise. They forget; they are influenced by their friends. Men listen to you when you talk to them, tomorrow they will go on as they did before,” said Dlamini.

He said it would take regular education campaigns in communities if progress was to be made.

NERCHA, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, and AIDS non-governmental organisations will analyse the findings for possible ways of bringing about behavioural change. Dlamini feels that if the views and concerns of ordinary people had been taken into consideration from the inception of the AIDS crisis, more effective solutions might have been found, perhaps even achieving the elusive goal of convincing people to change their behaviour.

A recent survey carried out in the Arki block in Ranchi district revealed that only three of 25 women opted for a safe abortion.

Lack of human resources, negligible number of NGOs, ignorance of scientific methods and heavy reliance on quacks and ojhas have increased unsafe abortions in the state.

Few trained doctors coupled with low awareness among women have made the situation worse. Moreover, there exists a social stigma and secrecy surrounding abortion in the state.

The MMP (maternal mortality programme) — death per 100,000 live births — in the state is 371 while the national average is 301. The number of induced abortions in Jharkhand is 146,000 per year while the number of safe abortions per year is 97,000.

Even though abortion up to 20 weeks of gestation is legal, safe but legal abortion services are not easily available to poor, rural women.

“Unsafe abortion endangers 4 million women in India every year, damaging the health and fertility of thousands and causing an estimated 15,000 preventable deaths,” said Usha Rani, a city-based gynaecologist.

While Vanoj Manin, country head of IPAS, an international NGO protecting women’s health and advancing women’s reproductive rights, said two-thirds (67 per cent) of induced abortions are carried out in unsafe conditions.

The IPAS programme, which was established in India in 2001, has helped establish safe abortion practices in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttarakhand.

“The proportion of maternal deaths due to unsafe abortions is gradually on the decrease. It has come down from 12 per cent in 2001 to 8 per cent in 2006,” Manin said.

IPAS works with the state government in rural areas. “People in rural areas are superstitious. But the state government is training doctors to handle abortion cases,” he added. “Besides, limited primary health centres exist and women come here only after developing complications,” said Manin.

In fact, senior gynaecologist Rani, who is also a member of the National Association of Gynaecologists, said: “Members should show their commitment in increasing the number of doctors, promoting expanded use of appropriate technologies and increasing awareness among women.”

The survey carried out in Chandankiari block (Bokaro) revealed rural practitioners often used ayurvedic and allopathic methods for abortion. Besides, wrong pills were also prescribed, Rani pointed out.

Some of the rural practitioners are trained by qualified doctors of Chas and Bokaro. Besides, several medical agents who refer cases earn around Rs 200-300 every day while medical practitioners charge Rs 800 for the abortion. Traditional midwives, however, refer to herbal practitioners and rely on drugs and herbal medicines.

“There are no abortion services in government health centres in Bokaro. The study also revealed four death cases due to abortion. Only two women had opted for medical care while two women used oral contraceptive pills. Only one man used protection,” added Manin.

Reproductive health activists have launched yet another campaign in Kenya aimed at ensuring that information and services for reproductive and sexual health care are available, accessible and affordable, and that any existing legal or informal barriers to such access are removed

Launching the campaigns in Nairobi, Grace Maingi Kimani, Coalition on Violence Against Women – Kenya (COVAW) said Kenya needs improved, more comprehensive reproductive health care services.

She said this needs to be reflected in the country’s HIV/AIDS policies and programs.

She said the campaigns will aim at ensuring the enactment of a comprehensive reproductive health rights law and policies as enumerated in the Maputo protocol, to which Kenya is signatory to.

According to activists, other strategic institutions, which are crucial to the realization of women’s rights, should actively be engaged in order to propagate women’s rights.

Lucy Simiyu of the Health Rights Advocacy Forum, (HERAF), a project of the Kenya Human Rights Commission said the campaigns will aim to advance women’s reproductive health, empower them address the social conditions that jeopardize their lives and health and to stamp out widely tolerated “natural, accepted, inevitable, necessary or customary” violations.

Simiyu said key to this campaign will be to introduce national laws and policies that respect, protect, and fulfill women’s reproductive rights as addressing women’s reproductive health is crucial to promoting gender equality and the right to development.

Simiyu said the campaigners will engage the government to ensure that the principles of the right to reproductive health care and the right to reproductive self-determination are respected and followed in the country.

The Maputo Protocol was adopted on the July 2003 by Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) during the Second Ordinary Summit of the AU convened in Maputo, Mozambique.

The Protocol obligates States to respect and promote the health of women especially in the area of sexual and reproductive health.

The right to health calls for government’s duty to ensure that health care is available. Provision of reproductive health services without discrimination – need to take into account particular health needs of both women and men.

Need for affirmative measures to ensure that RH care is available and accessible to all women. The adoption of the Protocol was pushed by widespread sentiments that African women continued to suffer human rights violations simply because they were women and the existing guarantees for the protection of their rights were felt to be inadequate.

However, according to Patricia Nyaundi of the Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA, understaffing, lack of supplies/facilities, unhygienic conditions in many clinics and lack of record keeping and transparency combined with restrictive abortion law and non-existence of law hamper Kenyan women accessing these rights.

Nyaundi said because of these shortcomings, women in the country have continued to suffer abuse around delivery, neglect and violations around stitching after delivery.

Worse still she said, women suffer detention in health facilities for inability to pay. These and other underlying issues have led to thousands of women in Kenya to seek reproductive health services in backstreet clinics.

A report released last year by the Kenya Medical Association, the Kenyan chapter of the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-K), the Ministry of Health and International Projects Assistance Services (IPAS) – a United States-based organisation that lobbies for women’s reproductive rights indicates that about 300,000 abortions are performed in the country each year, causing an estimated 20,000 women and girls to be hospitalised with related complications.

This translates into a daily abortion rate’ of about 800 procedures – and the death of 2,600 women every year.

Attempts by activists to call for favourable laws that would allow for abortion as a contraceptive measure have always faced resistance in the country.

Pro-life organisations claim that preventing unwanted pregnancies is a better way of reducing these deaths.

According to Jean Kaggi, Chairwoman of the Protecting Life Movement of Kenya, the first preventive measure is advocating for utilisation of family planning facilities, and making sure they are accessible to every woman or girl who is sexually active.

Recognising this anomaly, the pro-choice groups now call for lessening of conditions that would prevent abortions to take place.

For example, they note that while abortion is legal in Kenya according to scattered penal codes 35-63, the requirements that two practising medics and a psychiatrist are needed to certify the risk to a mother’s life and hence need for abortion is uncalled for.