A group of 14 southern Africa states held its first-ever women's parliament conference this week in Seychelles where those attending focused on HIV infections among women in member countries of the South African Development Community, or SADC.
Civil society organisations and United Nations agencies are working with the SADC parliamentary forum to discuss the UN Commission on the Status of Women Resolution 60/2 focusing on women, the girl child and HIV/AIDS.The aim of the resolution is to give full attention to the high levels of new HIV infections among young women and adolescent girls.
During the conference, a young politician from Zambia, Buumba Malambo, called on leaders and parliament members to support and implement laws that will change the lives of the girl child in Africa.
"We are still fighting for women to have representation in all sectors. In the health sectors, 99 percent of the health benefits or regulations are decisions made by men," said Malambo.
She added that decisions made on whether a woman should carry out an abortion and have access to condoms are held back by patriarchal teachings.
A parliament member of Malawi, Jessie Kabwila, who is also the chairperson of the Regional Women's Parliamentary Caucus, said that more women should be elected to parliaments, a move that will help attain equality between men and women.
"Issues of women, sexual reproductive rights and health will remain a bad dream if you don't assist women to get into party politics and ensure that they are empowered to deliver on their mandate," said Kabwila.
She added that the outcomes of the meeting in Seychelles will be irrelevant if the role of women in politics is not enhanced.
Both the global Agenda 2030 and the Africa-focused Agenda 2063 recognise the essential role of parliaments and parliamentarians in achieving sustainable human development, including the achievement of healthy societies.
The United Nations estimates that around 2.3 million adolescent girls and young women ages 15 to 24 are living with HIV, constituting 60 per percent of young people living with the virus.
Education will help bring down such HIV/AIDS statistics, conference attendees said.
The resolution aims at promoting equal economic opportunities for women and girls, ensuring full engagement of men and boys, promoting access to and retention in education and enacting on and implementing laws, policies and strategies to eliminate gender-based violence and all forms of discrimination against women.
Though Seychelles was seen in the conference as an exemplary country as a very high percentage of girls complete their secondary education, there is still room for improvement, including in home life.
"In Seychelles, we tend not to talk about incest. It is still a common occurrence here but people are still not coming forward to talk about it. As women in the parliament, we must talk about it to make people understand that this is wrong and unacceptable in our society," said Chantal Ghislain, a parliament member of Seychelles and the Chairperson of the Women's Committee of the National Assembly of Seychelles.
The National Assembly of Seychelles is hosting the 41st Plenary Assembly Session of the SADC Parliamentary Forum from July 5 to 15.