WINDHOEK: The High-Level Task Force for Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV for Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) on Tuesday sought the support of First Lady Penehupifo Pohambo on a number of issues.
The task force sought Pohamba’s support on issues of early marriage, early sex and early motherhood in ESA during a visit to State House.
It is made up of senior government officials from ESA, regional economic communities and regional directors of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA),the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations (UN) Women.
UN Women is a United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women. It supports projects that involve women in all levels of development planning and practice.
Taking into account that the First Lady is the current chairperson of the Organisation of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), the task force also used the meeting as an opportunity to seek her support in galvanising political and financial resources around issues affecting young girls and young women in ESA.
Speaking during the meeting, the task force’s Executive Chairperson Dr Fatma Mrisho explained that the task force, which was established in Windhoek in April 2011, mainly advocates for issues relating to women.
“As the current chairperson of OAFLA we would like to make a humble request that you help us champion the issues of early marriage, early sex and early motherhood because we have realised that this is something that is a problem in almost all countries in ESA,” she said.
Mrisho also stated that the task force has selected priority countries in the region which are lagging behind with respect to women, girls, gender equality and HIV.
These countries are Ethiopia, Uganda, South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique and Angola.
“We recognise that although these are priority countries and they have the biggest gaps in terms of these issues, countries that have not been prioritised should be encouraged to continue doing the good work they are doing,” the executive chairperson said.
During the meeting, Mrisho explained to the First Lady that the task force focuses on four priority areas, one of which is reducing HIV infections amongst women and girls, as well as sexuality amongst young women.
The second area is sexual reproductive health and rights and here, the focus is on male circumcision and cervical cancer management, particularly for HIV positive women.
“Cancer screening is something that we think should be advocated to all women as HIV positive women are at a higher risk of developing cancer of the cervix and therefore they are a priority group in the work that we do,” Mrisho said.
The third area is empowerment for women and girls, and here the focus will be education and the provision of life skills so that women are able to assert themselves.
“Young women and girls should be able to say no without feeling that it is not cool to say no, and they should also be taught the ability to manage their own sexuality with confidence,” the executive chairman of the task force stressed.
The fourth area is creating an enabling environment in terms of policy and resource availability.
Mrisho stated that resources, particularly for HIV/AIDS for gender issues, are threatened and most of the development partners are actually either stalling or it could be that they themselves are undergoing difficult times.
Meanwhile, the task force also requested the First Lady to champion the cause of women who are HIV positive, but are not getting adequate services during their OAFLA meetings.
On her part, Pohamba said the issue of early marriage, early sex and early motherhood has been a topic of discussion on several occasions at OAFLA meetingsm adding that even her predecessor, Ethiopian First Lady Azeb Mesfin did a spectacular job on championing this very topic during her reign.
“Early marriage is an issue that is really hindering the African continent, especially when it comes to health issues of a woman,” Pohamba noted.
She said Namibia is not really faced with early marriage issues but rather teenage pregnancies, citing that in most cases where girls become pregnant at an early stage, it should be the responsibility of parents to educate their children.
She explained that education on reproductive health and sex should already start at home at an early age and that schools should just add on what the child has already learned at home.
“I will try my utmost best for this topic to be reinforced during our OAFLA meetings, but I think that there is a need for governments to also put up measures on what age young people should be allowed to get married at,” the First Lady promised.