The Herald (Harare)

Africa: Champion Women's Rights, Continent Urged

PRESIDENT Mugabe yesterday challenged governments and civic society across Africa to champion and protect the rights of women and the girl child.

He was speaking at the inaugural meeting of the Global Power Women Network Africa chapter in Harare.

He said the launch of the Global Power Women Network Africa chapter took the issues of women emancipation and empowerment a step further.

"After the launch, the real work will begin and call for the same passion, unity of purpose and consistency in pursuing the goals which have characterised this women's network this far.

"Of particular note will be the challenge of giving unstinting support to women candidates of every cue and cry; of varying professional qualifications; driven by different talents and capabilities to realise their potential in the collaborative work of Global Power Women Network, the African Union and UNAids," he said.

The women's network, said the President, was focused on the fulfilment of Millennium Development Goals numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 of the United Nations.

He said the working theme for the meeting, "Getting to Zero", appropriately summarised the desire to eradicate, once and for all, impediments to women empowerment, gender equality and equity.

"It is a firm commitment to the eradication of the HIV and Aids pandemic and the alleviation of extreme poverty.

"I am told that deliberations from this conference will culminate in the 'Harare Call to Action' which will subsequently be presented to Heads of State and Government through the African Union system."

President Mugabe said it was befitting that one of the conference's objectives was to call upon governments and partners to affirm high-level national leadership and country ownership in the implementation of HIV and sexual reproductive health and rights.

The objectives are both immediate and long-term while future conferences will be held either annually or biennially depending on resources.

Venues shall be rotated among African countries and each conference will develop its own theme.

Yesterday's conference came against the backdrop of other ongoing programmes aimed at achieving the same goal.

"I am pleased by this collaboration with the African Union and the desire by Global Power Women Network to further the already ongoing programmes like Campaign on Accelerated Reduction on Maternal Mortality in Africa.

"By launching CARMA, Africans have shown that over the past six years (starting with the Maputo Plan of Action 2006) they are determined to accelerate the availability and use of universally accessible quality sexual and reproductive health services," said President Mugabe.

He said the launch of CARMA demonstrated that Africa cared as the programmes encompassed the mobilisation of the necessary political will to co-ordinate and harmonise interventions around country-led plans and the support of current efforts towards saving the lives of women and infants.

He said Zimbabwe, through the Ministries of Women's Affairs, Gender and Community Development and Economic Planning and Investment Promotion had introduced the Gender Responsive Economic Policy Management Initiative.

"This course builds the local capacity of policymakers and economic development practitioners to mainstream gender into economic development policy formulation."

The President took a swipe at rapists, saying they did not deserve to be treated like normal human beings.

He lamented the rot that had penetrated society in which people had the nerve to rape even babies.

The President also castigated homosexuality, saying it took away the rights of women and was therefore unacceptable.

"I do not know what others in the gay world believe, but here we do not live in that world.

"You can't talk of women's rights if you live in that world.

"When God gave Adam a woman to give him company, that was the beginning of mankind. God gave the woman the talent to give birth and so we must respect the woman and recognise her rights," said President Mugabe.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Navanethem Pillay said Africa continued to face challenges in supporting rights-based responses to HIV and sexual reproductive health for women and young girls.

She said leading causes of death among women of reproductive age were complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.

"In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, young women aged between 14 and 24 are as much as eight times more likely than men to be living with HIV.

"Vulnerability to HIV amongst sexually active young women, gender based violence and discrimination, as well as an inability to access sexual and reproductive health services, are causing an explosion of multiple epidemics," said Ms Pillay.

Ms Pillay added that the starting point in addressing the epidemics was to recognise that all people were equal in the enjoyment of their human rights.

When women's sexual and reproductive rights were violated, she said, they were denied the ability to have full autonomy over their bodies to lead healthy and productive lives.

They were also denied the chance to decide if and when to give birth to new life.

"A human rights based approach requires that women are seen as agents who control and have decision-making power over their own health, as holders of rights and entitlements rather than passive recipients of a charitable service.

"Some of the most difficult leadership calls are those that ask governments to step forward to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights that must be realised for us to effectively address HIV and the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls."

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