March is dubbed as Women’s month, with the 8th March being set aside as International Women’s Day. The UN Secretary, General António Guterres, has a clarion call for all: “On International Women’s Day, let us all pledge to do everything we can to overcome entrenched prejudice, support engagement and activism, and promote gender equality and women’s empowerment."
This day and month is a time to reflect on global progress in addressing issues affecting women. It is a day to call for change where injustice prevails. This is a day to give women a pat on the back and celebrate the courage and determination exhibited by ordinary women in overcoming prejudices in their day-to-day lives at community and national level. It is an opportunity to reflect on progress as we accelerate the 2030 agenda. Pressing for progress means we need to build momentum for the effective implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially number 5, that focuses on the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls; and SDG number 4, whose focus is to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and the promotion of lifelong learning.
As the world commemorates International Women’s Day, SAfAIDS recognises the challenges that women, adolescent girls and young women continue to face in accessing sexual and reproductive health services. Sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) continues to be a challenge, with global estimates published by WHO indicating that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetimes. In pressing for progress, we must put in place interventions that put an end to all the prejudices that women face on a daily basis.
Through its Transforming Lives programme, SAfAIDS is working towards transforming the policy environment to accelerate access to sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) by adolescent girls and young women (AGYW), by developing response guidelines on SGBV and advocating for reduced unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion. This is only possible by ensuring that relevant policies are put in place.
SAfAIDS continues to work to expose young women to essential knowledge, skills and experiences, coupled with mentoring and inspirational examples of women who have adopted effective leadership roles in Africa. This will ensure a new generation of young women who can assert themselves in their day-to-day situations, building their capacity so that they become leaders in their own right, who can champion the causes of urban and rural African woman tomorrow; woman who can demand for their SRHR, even in situations where these rights are compromised. We will continue pressing for progress to ensure adolescent girls and young women are empowered to demand their rights.
It is well known that women are key contributors to global economies by reducing poverty, which has positive spin-offs for HIV interventions, which in turn, impact positively on women’s SRHR. Having strong young women leaders ensures greater progress in efforts to achieve healthy nations the world over.
International Women’s Day must not be taken as just another celebratory day, but as a day that celebrates and honours the many roles women play in building a better world. Let us join hands in celebrating the life and contribution of that special woman in our lives. Indeed, let us press for progress not just on International Women’s Day, but on 365 days of the year.
Knowledge for action: The power to make a difference!