Monday, October 14

My Special ARCPD Report: From a Grassroots Woman Activist's Perspective

“Now I know I matter and that my voice matters too”, recalling the statement, one young girl in a rural community in the southwest region of Cameroon once said when asked to take the UN My World Survey.

Just like this young girl, I felt same, in the strong presence of CSO participants, women activists and youth leaders at #ARCPD


Youth asking for the floor to deliver their statement at ministerial meeting!
A week ago, I had the honour of attending and representing my grassroots community in Addis, for the Africa Regional Conference on Population and Development (ARCPD) ICPD PoA beyond 2014, for two weeks. An attendance made possible through the nominations of four INGOs organizations: Youth Coalition, IWHC, RESURJ &  DAWN. 

The ARCPD, being the last regional conference on the ICPD PoA review, was convened with the aims of identifying strategic priorities on population and development in Africa, and to review, discuss, draft and adopt an African common position to the ICPD post 2014 and further development transformation. 

Together with heads of governments, African Ministers, CSO representatives, researchers, academics, youth leaders, parliamentarians, heads of NGOs and INGOs and Regional Economic Committees…we deliberated over some the key issues, for ICPD beyond2014  thus reaping the demographic dividend: The Future we want for Africa. 

It is worth noting that the two weeks review processes was structured in three different phases: First, a youth pre-conference that attracted over 200 young persons, youth leaders and experts across the continent, to deliberate and get African youth voices captured on the ICPD beyond 2014 review agenda.

Following the youth forum, was the CSOs conference which also lasted for two days; 26th – 27th September.  Then, September 30 – October 04, the experts meetings, and lastly the African Ministers meetings: closing the series of deliberations and adoption of a common Statement on Population and Development in Africa beyond 2014.
 
Youth, CSOs participants and Women activists Standing Up and speaking out for Women’s Rights and Empowerment

While at the conference, I realized the power of young people across Africa. With over 200 of them standing up and speaking out so strong on matters affecting their rights, especially on education, sexual and reproductive health, employment and security;  as well as government’s lack of commitments and full engagement and involvement of young persons in all spheres of decision making and development plans. In all, they concluded with four powerful statements and priority areas for government investments –that is: Health, Education, Employment and Inclusive participation, security and Governance.

I also saw women; girls and CSO participants (including myself) shared unique experiences both at grassroots and regional levels; barriers and constraints that often impede women’s gain empowerment. Mainly due to existing discriminatory social norms, policies and harmful traditional practices, such as FGM, early and forced marriage, son preference, and fundamental violations of the human rights of women and girls.

In which, we call on governments, regional bodies and other partners to: “develop, adopt, enhance and / or facilitate the full implementation and enforcement of policies to prevent all forms of discrimination and violence, including violence against girls and young people of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, sexual violence, bullying and harassment, provide support to survivors and promote safe space programmes for girls in order to increase their empowerment, autonomy and independence, as well as their capacity to protect themselves from violence”.  While also accelerates the implementation of the Abuja Declaration on allocating 15% of national budgets to health, especially on sexual and reproductive health services and care.

The whole experience was very engaging and empowering – both professionally and personally. And as a grassroots woman activist, I felt once again belonged to one big family; sisters and brothers who share similar experiences and vision.
Unfortunately, this feeling ended just when our African ministers joined the debate. When some began selecting issues based on ‘personal’ beliefs and not the reality on ground. 

Most shocking of all was when a Minister asked what “Gender Based Violence’ meant?  
And “Why all the discourse on adolescent girls?”
“Adolescents are adolescents”, another minister concurred to friend’s question
Hearing some ministers speak so ignorantly about the daily peoples’ challenges; men and women, young people (especially) women and girls, was emotionally disturbing and disappointing.  

“No wonder” I said to myself: “the regional statistics on development and women (human) rights progress are often bad and so poor”.

For it’s obvious that most of our political elites live in a world of theirs; with different realities – far from the grassroots woman or man. 

Having said, good enough, we had a couple of enlightened African Ministers like those from South Africa, Liberia and a few others who could feel and understand the pain of the common person. That is the “3 million girls each year at risk for undergoing FGM, and an estimated 130-140 million girls and women that have been subjected to the operation.
The approximately 14 million girls married every year before they reach 18 years (38% in sub-Saharan Africa and 18% in North Africa), and this is in direct violation of the Maputo Protocol and the laws of most African nations.  

In addition, the roughly 35% of women who have experienced either physical and/ or sexual intimate partner violence (IPV) or non-partner sexual violence”.
The above and many more are the living experiences of a common person – including persons like myself living and working at the grassroots.  

Nonetheless, we had quite a progressive debate and positive negotiations at the ARCPD. The culminating of all was the adoption and ministers’ commitment to implement relevant comprehensive sexuality education programme both in/out of school milieus. And also to reduce maternal mortality – to zero.

My take home quotes and message from the conference
After all the stories, successes shared, quarrels encountered and amendments made, what’s my take home message?

  1. Engage political elites as alies for human (women’s) right, comprehensive sexuality education programs both in/out of schools. 
  2.  Embarked on more rigorous advocacy and awareness raising that translates to meaningful actions. 
  3.  Close the missing gap / link and strengthen collaborative ties between Civil Society Organizations and Researchers, Medics, Academics, Social Activists and Politicians and other partners.

Some take home quotes~

“Harnessing the demographic dividend needs”, an expert said: “is not automatic. It requires strong political, social and economic will, gender sensitive policies, and right-based investment and employment opportunities”.
 “Africa needs to Invest in its youth so they can reach their full potential as agent of change”.

 And most importantly, “its adolescent girls: Investing in adolescent girls is one of the smartest things a nation can ever do.”
We need an Africa “every pregnancy is wanted, every child health is safe and every young person’s dream is fulfilled” a strong remark made by the UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

To conclude is this one TOUCHING REMARK from the Namibia woman minister. A strong and powerful statement she made to us all (most especially to some) 18 of 54 African ministers who refused adoption of the Addis Ababa Declaration because of the clause “…without distinction of any kind...” saying the language supports Sexual Orientations and Gender Identity (SOGI).
  
 “We can continue discussing and continue deleting until the statements got no meaning. We live in a world that discriminates. We love distinctions….because we make distinctions between people - elderly, albinos, women, persons with disability, PLWH/AIDs. Let one particular issue not delay what we made 20years ago at Cairo.
If religion and law doesn’t allow making distinction then this particular paragraph is for you! Let’s leave this continent and go face the global world in a voice that speaks for Africa!” said the Namibian Minister

Notes:

More on ARCPD on twitter # ARCPD #ICPDYOUTHAFRICA #ICPDCSO

Read other Interesting posts on the ARCPD at http://blog.iwhc.org