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Statement on the occasion of International Women's Day 2011
Lois Chingandu, Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS)
March 08, 2011

Today, Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Service (SAfAIDS) joins the world in commemorating International Women's Day. We take this opportunity as an organisation to call upon stakeholders to continue investing in the empowerment of girls and women throughout southern Africa and beyond.

While progress has been made, as evidenced by the growing number of African girls accessing education and pursuing careers of their choice, there are still concerning reports about the ability of women and girls to access their sexual and reproductive rights, in a context free from fear, stigma and violence. Gender based violence continues to be a major threat to women across the region which, sadly, is often perpetuated under the guise of culture and tradition. Multiple concurrent partnerships persist and women continue to bear the burden of this, as evidenced by the higher numbers of women living with HIV compared to their male counterparts in Sub-Saharan Africa, at 57%.It is our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, colleagues who are still fighting for their rights to be acknowledged and protected.

In southern Africa, International Women's Day provides an opportunity for renewed efforts towards achieving universal human rights for all women and girls. The day places a spotlight on the inter-linkages between gender, culture which directly influence women's and girls' vulnerability to HIV and their sexual and reproductive rights.

Death and disability due to poor SRH accounted for 32% of the disease burden among women of reproductive age 15-44 in 2001. One in 16 women in sub-Saharan Africa dies from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. This compares with 1 in every 2,800 in highly-developed countries. Women now represent two-thirds of those infected with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa. About 201 million women in the world have unmet need for contraception. This includes younger women that want to delay having their first child or increase spacing between children. Unsafe abortions contribute to 13% of maternal deaths, with the highest case rates being in sub Saharan Africa.

The Maputo Plan of Action (MPoA), which was adopted by the African Union Ministers of Health in 2006 and endorsed by Heads of States and Governments in 2007 seeks to take the continent forward to operationalise the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Continental Policy Framework towards the achievement of the millennium development goals. The goal is to provide universal access to comprehensive SRH and service in Africa by 2015.

In the same vein, the 12th AU summit held in Addis Abba in 2009 launched the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA). This seeks to push the agenda of the MPoA forward and increase its implementation by all countries as member states of the AU. However, whilst political commitment is apparent, the global financial crisis and global warming have worsened poverty in Africa, making it difficult for countries to meet their commitments. Today, 500,000 women continue to die each year in child birth or complication of pregnancy.

While we celebrate womanhood, and commemorate men who support women and women's rights, we need to challenge the existing circumstances which result in the majority of young women in Africa having no access to basic sexual and reproductive health services (SRH) including information, safe labour and delivery services, emergency obstetric care, essential drugs and contraceptive supplies.

As SAfAIDS, we are committed to:
- Delivering interventions that reduce the disproportionate burden of HIV on women and girls
- Promoting programmes that demonstrate real impact in terms of preventing new HIV infections
- Advocating for universal access to prevention and treatment services
- Supporting a policy of zero tolerance of violence of any kind against women and girls.
- Strengthening initiatives for improved maternal and child health
- Supporting adolescents and young women to achieve their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

As we celebrate The 100th International Women's Day, we are proud to announce a new programme within SAfAIDS, the Young Women First Movement. This is a project that seeks to contribute to the reduction of vulnerability of women and girls in southern Africa and to enhance the centrality of sexual and reproductive health to human development and reduction in poverty. The project seeks to mobilise young women, empower them and provide support that leads to young women reclaiming their sexual and reproductive health and rights. It will also provide a platform to raise awareness of SRHR issues and to speak on behalf of young women and girls at continental level, linking with regional and international platforms such the African Union, UN Women, UNIFEM and UNGASS.

The voices of young women as both beneficiaries and owners of the project will be amplified by providing them with safe spaces and capacities to participate fully in the current intensive debates on a range of issues: access to services, young women's SRHR, abortion, family planning, clinic placement, hours of service and user fees. The project will result in visible and felt changes in the lives of young women and girls taking charge of their sexual and reproductive health.

As SAfAIDS we truly believe that by supporting women and girls to take charge of their sexual and reproductive health and rights, we can make the world a better, healthier and safer place for all. To achieve this we will continue to work with governments and partner organisations to achieve universal access to education and reproductive health by 2015.

In solidarity with women, girls, men and boys throughout the world, we wish you an inspiring 100th International Women's Day!

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