Windhoek-The chairperson of the SADC PF’s Standing Committee on Human and Social Development and Special Programmes, Ahmed Emam, says the Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR), HIV and AIDS Governance Project made an impact.
The project began in 2014 and is being implemented in seven SADC member states, namely; Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Lesotho, Namibia, Seychelles and Mauritius. It is scheduled to end this month.
It seeks to build the capacity of female MPs in particular and that of national parliaments in general to advocate for universal access to SRHR, HIV and AIDS services. Through this programme parliamentarians are being capacitated, also, to interface with the media and advocate on relevant issues. The decision to place special emphasis on women and girls enjoying SRHR has been questioned in some quotas but says it was deliberate. “There is still need for special efforts to bring into the fold women and girls who continue to be disproportionally affected by issues this project seeks to address. However, we acknowledge the need to involve male members of parliament,” he says.
The South African lawmaker noted a mid-term review of the project had been conducted by KPMG in keeping with best practices on good governance.
“This was an important undertaking which sought to inform the SADC PF on what had been achieved ever since the Project begun in 2014. More importantly, this mid-term review was necessary for us to be able to identify any challenges encountered in the Project and to come up with appropriate remedial actions,” he stated. He said the mid-term review was necessary, also, to provide information to Sweden and Norway funding the project, about the successes realised and to demonstrate whether or not funding that had been availed was being used accordingly.
“The review enables us to appreciate the way the Project has been coordinated in the participating countries: the way it has brought about changes in SRHR deliberations and actions since it began and to appreciate the level of engagement with boundary partners that include CSO and media among others,” expounded the parliamentarian.
Although the project is being implemented in seven of the 14 SADC member states with a view to replicating it in other SADC member states funds permitting, there was evidence that other countries which were not part of the first phase of the Project had been influenced by its work. He gave the example of Botswana, Malawi and Swaziland in which the media, traditional leaders and MPs have been advocating around child marriage, gender-based violence and HIV which the project is preoccupied with.
“This has led to increased advocacy in parliament and the media. Perhaps more exciting is the fact that our Project has been collaborating with like-minded organisations such as the Pan-African Parliament,” he noted
“Such collaborations provide opportunities for cross-fertilisation of ideas. It is noteworthy that the PAP is a formal Regional Parliament which is what our Forum aspires to become,” the Chairperson said, adding that the Project had built a vast network of like-minded organisations that include FEMNET, PLAN International, ARASA, UNFPA, UNAIDS and the media,” he stated.
Recalling that one of the objectives is to the building of the capacity of parliamentarians, especially women MPs on promoting, intervening and advocating for essential SRHR, HIV and AIDS services, Emam says a minimum of 390 MPs and representatives of partner organisations dealing with these issues had been reached.
The project influenced other SADC PF Standing Committees to a point where all of them had successfully integrated SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance in their work.
“This is a major achievement given the cross-cutting nature of the issues that we deal with in our Project,” he said.
He says among the highlights of the project’s work over the past nearly four years has been the development and adoption of the SADC Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Children Already in Marriage.
“It is noteworthy that during the adoption of this Model Law, at least 100 MPs, Staff of Parliament, CSOs and representatives of UN agencies were in attendance,” he said.
Tackling difficult issues
Emam says the project has built a reputation for tackling important and sometimes controversial issues and he cited a round table discussion that took place from in September 2016 in Gaborone, Botswana to explore the links between Gender Based Violence and SRHR in the SADC Region.
Additionally, capacity-building sessions for MPs, staff of National Parliament and development partners have had tangible and measurable outcomes.
“We have seen the adoption of motions at regional level, which have helped set standards and norms that inform interventions at national level. Our Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriages and Protecting Children Already in Marriage has influenced national polices related to eradication of Child marriage in several Member States notably: Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia,” said the parliamentarian.
MPs who are part of the Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (RWPC) have been lobbying and advocating for integrated SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance issues in their respective parliamentary committees and other organs within the SADC Region.
“This is commendable as it is in line with the outcome that is related to RWPC MPs lobbying for integrated SRHR, HIV and AIDS. Bills that had been discussed at national level,” he said.
The project had been associated the launch of the #HAPPYFLOWCAMPAIGN in Zimbabwe to push countries in the SADC Region to recognise menstrual hygiene products as a basic need which should be provided for free.
“This brought girls’ menstruation issues into the SADC PF agenda, as well as National Parliaments that include those of Lesotho, Namibia and Botswana,” he says.
Emam says the Project has built the capacity of many SADC women MPs to effectively and table motions.
“During the 39th and 40th Assembly Plenary Sessions, all motions that were moved were seconded by Women MPs who were able to integrate knowledge from their committees to mainstream issues of SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance. Many MPs are now able to table their own motions with regards to SRHR, HIV and AIDS. This is a major milestone.”
In Namibia, the latest country to implement this Project, several workshops were held targeting MPs, CSOs and staff of Parliament.
The chairperson says that all donors and development partners desire to see their financial resources being used for intended purposes and within agreed timeframes.
“Due to circumstances of an imperious nature, it sometimes happens that toward the end of a given project, implementers realise that they still have a bit of money. In such a situation what should they do? Do they blow the money, or return it to the donor, or ask for more time to use it judiciously? I subscribe to the third route.” He says that the ability of the project to absorb funds made available to it had improved significantly.
“In some of our participating countries, the Women Parliamentary Caucuses are dormant. This is a weak link. The Women’s Caucuses can be platforms for the launching of advocacy on issues that our Project is working on,” he said.
He notes that some implementing countries, specifically Lesotho and Tanzania were lagging behind in terms of implementation for reasons beyond their control.