Windhoek-The Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, Juliet Kavetuna has implored her fellow female MPs to be vocal on the challenges that people face in Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR), HIV and AIDS so that they could make a difference in society.
Kavetuna made the call when she delivered a keynote address at the beginning of a recent SADC Parliamentary Forum-led capacity building workshop that was held for Namibian women Parliamentarians in Swakopmund.
Kavetuna said the muted voices of female parliamentarians on SRHR, HIV and AIDS and other essential issues could explain why some people will not readily vote for aspiring female MPs.
“There is a disturbing perception out there that some women who have either worked hard to be elected to Parliament or some of those who were lucky enough to be appointed into Parliament, are not doing much to advocate for the rights of fellow women and girls as they relate to SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance issues,” stated the deputy health minister.
She said there is a belief that some female MPs try to conform to the language spoken in the wood-panelled room of Parliament and were not using the “language of the heart” to better explain Gender Based Violence (GBV) and how it can and should be eliminated, or using the “the language of the body” to talk about reproductive health, the devastating effects of back street abortions and the right to access to contraceptives.
Kavetuna said there was evidence from all over Africa – including Namibia – that more women were breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling to take up potentially influential positions in politics, government, academia, commerce, industry and other spheres.
She said despite the welcome changing status of women, far too many women, girls, men and boys continued to face serious challenges related to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, HIV and AIDS governance.
She cited the unmet needs for family planning, poor uptake of some forms of contraception; the lack of choice in SRHR and control over one’s sexuality; lack of affordable health services and products; drug stock outs; insufficient human resources for health; geographic and attitudinal barriers to universal SRHR; maternal and infant mortality; early sexual debut; child marriage; teenage pregnancy; fistula; unsafe abortions; and lack of age-appropriate SRHR related information.
POOR IMPLEMENTATION OF POLICIES
She said whereas in many SADC member states, there were fairly well thought out and elaborate policies related to SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance issues, implementation still remained a big challenge.
“My view is that this implementation has been sluggish because of insufficient budgetary allocation for the programmes that target women and children in particular,” said Kavetuna.
She expressed concern over the fact many SRHR, HIV and AIDS programmes in SADC were over-reliant on donor funding which she said was now neither predictable nor sustainable.
She warned that leadership changes in some countries that host or control big donor institutions might negatively impact on funding to SRHR, HIV and AIDS programmes.
“As women in Parliament, you must interrogate the budgetary allocation to health to see whether specific allocations to relevant SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance programmes are being affected by these dynamics,” she urged other female parliamentarians.
CHALLENGES FOR FEMALE MPS
Last November Namibia began implementing a SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance four-year project that Sweden and Norway (Norad) are funding in six other SADC Member States. Kavetuna said the SADC PF project presents a glorious opportunity for Namibian women and others elsewhere within the SADC region to prove cynics wrong through speaking out.
“As female MPs you need to embrace the fact that it is neither unparliamentarily nor unprofessional to factually and prominently talk about issues that affect women more than men, or even exclusively. You are in Parliament to rock the boat and make waves by tacking hard issues. Universal access to SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance will remain a pipe dream unless our women Parliamentarians, working closely with their male counterparts develop teeth and have a clear voice on these issues,” she stated.
She challenged Namibian women Parliamentarians to become more united across political party lines to ensure unity of purpose and to strengthen their Parliamentary Women’s Caucus.
“Take advantage of the willingness of the SADC Parliamentary Forum and its partners to provide support so that you tap into external resource persons to bring you up to speed with respect to current and emerging SRHR, HIV and AIDS issues. This would enable you to advocate, represent, legislate, monitor and evaluate on the basis on evidence,” she stated.
The workshop brought together 26 women Parliamentarians. Officials from SADC PF, The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Ministry of Health and Social Services, Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration, Ministry of Safety and Security, Women Solidarity Namibia, and the Law Reform and Development Commission made presentations during the workshop.
A communique issued at the end of the workshop said the women parliamentarians took note of the common, non-partisan SRHR, HIV and AIDS Governance issues that they could deal with as a Caucus. These include the Abortion Act of 1975, the Veterans Act, the Customary Laws Marriages Bill, the Uniform Matrimonial Property Regime Bill, teenage pregnancies, early child marriage, gender based violence and access to education.
It stated the request was made for the Administration of Parliament to convene capacity building workshops for women Parliamentarians in legislative analysis, economic literacy, public speaking and confidence-building