Namibia has become the seventh SADC Member State to implement the SADC Parliamentary Forum-led Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), HIV and AIDS project.
Funded by Sweden and Norway, the project seeks to build the capacity of female members of parliament in particular and that of that of national parliaments in general to advocate for SRHR, HIV and AIDS issues.
It was back to school for staff of the National Assembly of Namibia when they met here for a capacity building training session, as Namibia moved to ensure that people who will either implement of support implementation of the project were familiar with it. The project began nearly two years ago, but Namibia became an implementing country this month after efforts to implement the project in Angola failed.
Last week’s training session sought to build the knowledge of staff of parliament on the aims and objectives of the SADC-PF project so that they could support MPs, who are a key component of the project.
Newly appointed secretary to the National Assembly Lydia Kandetu officially opened the training session, which attracted approximately 30 staff members from six directorates of the National Assembly. Stressing that SRHR were human rights, Kandetu said the right and ability to control one’s sexuality and reproduction is fundamental to all human beings.
“Age-appropriate information related to sex and reproduction must be made available to all people so that they make informed decisions. Poor access to SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance information, services and commodities can jeopardise people’s ability to reach their full potential,” Kandetu said in a speech delivered on her behalf by the director of legal services at the National Assembly, Pietie Husselmann.
Noting that the world’s women and girls were particularly vulnerable to SRHR, HIV and AIDS services, Kandetu said poor access to SRHR, HIV and AIDS information, services and commodities could increase people’s vulnerability to poverty, ignorance and disease. “Women aged 15-44 are especially vulnerable in developing countries where culture, harmful customs and patriarchy can be barriers,” she said.
The role of MPs
Kandetu said Members of Parliament had a major role in ensuring that all citizens had access to SRHR, HIV and AIDS services. “MPs normally do this through their roles of law-making, representation, advocacy and oversight. It is important that MPs are given the latest and most rlevant information with respect to gaps, challenges and opportunities if they are to make a difference in the spheres of SRHR, HIV and AIDS.”
Role of staff
The secretary of the National Assembly said staff of parliament were key to the successful implementation of the project, hence efforts to build their capacity. “It has been said and I think well said, that a nation’s members of parliament are as good or as bad as its staff of parliament. This is because in many respects staff of parliament are advisors of MPs. We rely on you, staff of parliament, to knowledgeably support our MPs to perform the parliamentary function. The research and the evidence that shape debates on the floor of parliament come from you.”
Commitment of National Assembly
Kandetu said the National Assembly was committed to participating actively in the SRHR, HIV and AIDS Project. “Our view is that this project will help us identify current and emerging SRHR-related challenges and in formulating strategies to overcome them for the benefit of the Namibian woman, girl, men and boy.”
She said although there had never been a baseline survey that was undertaken to determine the situation currently, as it relates to SRHR, HIV and AIDS in Namibia, Namibia was hosting several UN agencies that work in SRHR, HIV and AIDS issues. “I invite them to join hands with the National Assembly as we implement this project.”
Kudos to local media
While acknowledging its watchdog role, Kandetu paid tribute to the media in Namibia for keeping SRHR, HIV and AIDS issues in the public discourse through consistent and accurate reportage. “I am grateful to our media, especially New Era, Namibian Sun and The Namibian, who have been writing a lot about the work that this project has been doing in other countries,” she said.
She noted that Namibian MPs had also participated in some activities of SADC-PF, such as the development of the SADC Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Those Already in Marriage.
The assistant representative of UNFPA in Namibia, Israel Tjizake, the executive director of Namibia Planned Parenthood Association, Bravo Linosi, UNAIDS Namibia institutional development adviser Koech Arap Rotich and staff of SADC-PF made presentations during the capacity building training.
Communications and advocacy specialist for SADC-PF Moses Magadza said the presentations provided an overview of current and emerging SRHR challenges in Namibia and how staff of parliament can support MPs. “With staff of parliament now firmly on board, SADC-PF and other partners will hold an orientation session for members of parliament on 28 and 29 October 2016 in Otjiwarongo. Orientation for civil society organisations working in the areas of SRHR, HIV and AIDS will take place on 30 and 31 October 2016 in Windhoek,” Magadza said.