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 Wednesday 03 October 2007
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AFRICA: MPs must push for women's access to health services

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Former Irish President Mary Robinson addresses MPs and members of civil society
NAIROBI, 12 September 2007 (PlusNews) - African parliamentarians need to push public policy to focus more on women's health issues, delegates attending a regional workshop organised by the Parliamentarians for Women's Health (PWH) [] in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, heard this week.

"MPs [members of parliament] have the potential to drive the political will to support women's health issues," said Elizabeth Aroka, East Africa regional coordinator of PWH.

PWH, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is a three-year programme created in 2005 to connect parliamentarians in Botswana, Kenya Namibia and Tanzania with local communities and civil society with a view to improving women and girls' access to health services, particularly HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention, care and counselling.

"Under PWH, sexual reproductive health has come out of the closet," said Mary Robinson, former Irish president and president of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalisation Initiative, one of PWH's partners. "We need to widen the circle of people speaking frankly about these issues.

Elma Dienda, an MP from Namibia, told IRIN/PlusNews that under PWH, she and other MPs had gone to various villages to train local people and traditional healers on reproductive health and HIV/AIDS issues.

"We reached out to the community in a new way - they are very unused to dealing with parliamentarians on a one-on-one level, especially talking about issues like PAP smears and sex," she said. "Even in a short time, we can see a change in attitude."

Dienda said MPs in Namibia had managed to convince the ministry of health to change the name of a clinic in one of Windhoek's largest hospitals from the stigmatising "STD Clinic" to "Family Planning Clinic".

In other countries, however, the PWH project has had less of an impact. Abinery Mpendwa, from the Tanzanian NGO, Network of Positive Women, said just one workshop had been held by the MPs on women's health since the project began.

"women in Tanzania lack HIV treatment literacy and human rights literacy - these are issues the MPs should be pushing for," she said. "We need much more commitment from MPs on HIV/AIDS and women's health issues."

Delegates stressed the need for the involvement of people living with HIV in the parliamentarians' work, as well as the need to use women's electoral power as an incentive to push their issues up the legislative agenda.

"In Kenya, for example, the voting majority are women; MPs could use women's health issues to get into parliament and keep them on the agenda," said James Kamau, coordinator of the Kenya Treatment Access Movement.

The workshop brought together MPs, civil society organisations and community representatives to share results of the project and lessons learned.

"It is now imperative that MPs translate what they have learned into the context and create programmes for the local reality," Robinson said.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Care/Treatment - PlusNews, (IRIN) Gender - PlusNews, (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (IRIN) PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.