SADC Parliamentary Forum 5-6 July 2017 Mahe, Seychelles

KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY HIFIKEPUNYE POHAMBA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF NAMIBIA AND MEMBER OF THE CHAMPIONS FOR AN HIV-FREE GENERATION AT THE SADC PARLIAMENTARY FORUM

WOMEN’S PARLIAMENT ON THE COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN’S RESOLUTION 60/2 (WOMEN, THE GIRL CHILD AND HIV AND AIDS)    

Director of Ceremonies,

Honourable Members of the SADC Parliamentary Forum,

Honourable Representatives of Pan African Parliament,

Honourable Representatives of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA),

Esteemed Representatives of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS),

Esteemed Representatives of the European Union (EU),

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to have been invited to participate in this landmark gathering, where women members of the SADC Parliamentary Forum and other stakeholders seek to add momentum to the implementation of Resolution 60/2 of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The key aim of this resolution is to stop HIV infection among our women and girls. At the outset, allow me to express gratitude to the Government and wonderful people of Seychelles for the hospitality extended to us ever since we arrived here in Mahe.  The warm welcome accorded to us has made us feel at home.

I also commend the Secretariat of the SADC Parliamentary Forum through its Standing Committee on Human Social Development and Special Programmes, the Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus and other partners for organising this unique Women’s Parliament.

I am convinced that the results of deliberations that will take place here over the next two days will add the necessary traction in efforts to achieve the objectives of Resolution 60/2 and its focus on addressing the impact of HIV/Aids on women and girl children.

Director of Ceremonies,

Research has repeatedly shown that African women and girls – especially in sub-Saharan Africa, bear the brunt and a disproportionately high burden of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. In sub-Saharan Africa, starting from young age, there is a higher incidence of HIV infection among girl children than the boys.  Although the gap is not as high amongst the youth in their late 20s, the fact remains that girls and young women have a disproportionately high HIV infection rate.

There are many factors that explain higher HIV infection rates amongst girls and young women. These include intergenerational relationships, out-dated cultural practices and sexual exploitation.   These practices put our girls at women at risk. It is important that measures are put in place to combat the spread and impact of HIV/Aids on society.  This must be our collective goal as Champions of an AIDS-Free Generation, Members of Parliament and stakeholders in this important mission. 

No effort should be spared to empower girls and women through interventions such as comprehensive sexuality education (CSE).  This should be complemented with initiatives to promote self-actualisation and self-confidence for girls, to build self-esteem and to inculcate strong value systems amongst African girls.  We need to join hands and teach our girls and young women that there are more benefits from waiting and doing things at the right time. Let us teach our daughters and sisters that bigger and better cellular phones, cars, houses etc. will come at the right time. There is no need to rush. 

In many cultures in our part of the world, women are not allowed to talk.

From a young age they are socialised to be meek and quiet. We need to break this culture of silence.  Women and girls need to be able to express themselves.  It is therefore important that responsive policies are put in place remove these unhealthy cultural prohibitions to self-assertiveness. African girls have the right for self-actualisation, the freedom to challenge the status quo and to be articulate. They don’t have to beg for it.

 Director of Ceremonies,

There are many disparities regarding the harmonisation of laws related to Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) issues, within Regional Economic Communities. For example, there is no agreed definition of a child in the SADC Region. That negatively affects efforts towards eradicating child marriage. Lack of harmonisation of laws and policies has also hampered access to services related to Sexual Reproductive Health Right, as well as HIV and AIDS.  This too, must change. 

The time to act is now so that the full intent of Resolution 60/2 of the Commission on the Status of Women can be achieved.

I wish you all productive deliberations, with the hope that this gathering will come up with effective recommendations that our policy and decision makers, as well as implementers can immediately put into motion. 

I thank you.