Windhoek - Gender activists from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region launched the She Decides Southern Africa campaign on 13 August in Windhoek.
The campaign, part of a global effort to protect women and girls, was launched along with the 10th edition of the SADC Gender Protocol Barometer ahead of the 38th SADC Ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government held from 17 to18 August 2018.
She Decides is a global campaign that was created by gender and human rights activists across the globe, as an urgent response to US President Donald Trump’s reinstatement and dramatic expansion of the Global Gag Rule (also known as the Mexico City Policy) in January 2017.
The rule prevents non-governmental organisations outside the US from receiving money from the US government to finance safe abortions and other family planning.
Namibia is the second country in Southern Africa to launch the campaign that is being spearheaded by Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS), after it was launched in South Africa in March this year.
Speaking at the launch that was attended cabinet ministers, parliamentarians and high-profile personalities from the region, SAfAIDS Executive Director Lois Chingandu described the campaign as a rallying call for leaders and citizens alike to stand up as a matter of urgency to protect the rights, health, safety and livelihoods of millions of girls and women around the region.
The campaign makes a case about the importance of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for achieving sustainable development and proposes recommendations such as mobilising sufficient and predictable financing for such services and policies.
Chingandu said the high rates of gender-based violence and HIV in the region is an indication that women continue to lack a voice, choices and control in sexual reproductive health rights.
According to the SADC Gender Protocol Barometer 2018, violence against women in seven countries show a lifetime prevalence rates ranging from 25% in Mauritius, 37% in Botswana, South Africa (50%), Seychelles (58%), Zimbabwe (68%), Zambia (77%) to (86%) in Lesotho.
The barometer shows that sexual violence against women and girls remains one of the major causes of HIV infection while marital rape is pervasive and contributes to the HIV and AIDS pandemic.
According to the barometer, for every two people enrolled in HIV treatment, five become newly infected. Women account for 59% of those living with HIV in Southern Africa, while men account for 53% of AIDS-related deaths.
Punitive policies and restrictive laws against vulnerable groups as well as lack of resources have been highlighted as some of the barriers for young people to access sexual reproductive health services.
Only four SADC countries have decriminalised homosexuality namely South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Seychelles, but recent court rulings in Botswana suggest the ground is thawing in other countries.
“South Africa is the only country in the world whose constitution recognises sexual orientation. No SADC country has decriminalised sex work, although the ruling African National Congress in South Africa voted at its December 2017 congress in favour of doing so,” the report reads.
Chingandu stressed that the fact that contraceptive use in the region among women ranges from 12% in Mozambique to 76% in Mauritius is an indication that there is a need for governments to create conducive policy environments for young girls to be able to decide when it comes to sexual reproductive health.
The report reveals that only South Africa and Mozambique give women the choice to terminate pregnancy. Unsafe abortion contributes to high rates of maternal mortality across the region. While maternal mortality ratios are declining in other regions, in SADC they increased between 1990 and 2010 mainly as a result of HIV.
Chingandu said strengthening health services alone is not enough and government need to address social, cultural, political, and economic factors that increase adolescents, vulnerability to sexual and reproductive health problems.
“Building an enabling environment includes working with various stakeholders, such as parents, community members, and policymakers to address conditions that affect the ability of young people to access relevant and necessary health services, information and products,” she said.
Chingadu said the She Decides Southern Africa campaign will work closely with government and stakeholders to empowering individuals by educating girls, building their assets, and creating safe spaces as well as to building healthy relationships by enhancing parental communication and peer networks.
The campaign that is expected to be rolled out to other SADC member states will also engage communities by working with men and boys to change harmful gender norms, as well as to try and transforming societies by promoting laws and policies that protect human rights.