Boosting women’s health through gender equality

PHOTO: blogs.nature.com

PHOTO: blogs.nature.com

On March 8th, the world commemorated the International women’s Day, which had its roots from several labour movements from North America and Europe, dating back to 1911. It however received official international nod in 1975 when the United Nations celebrated it on International Women’s Year, and two years later gave it further boost by adopting a resolution proclaiming a United Nation’s Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace, to be observed on any day of the year by member states, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.

Strengthened by four global UN women’s conferences, IWD has assumed a life of its own with its foundations solidly built around ‘‘’rights, equality, empowerment and justice’’ which include political economic and social rights.”

The theme for 2016 cerebration, “Planet 50-50 by 2030, Step It Up for Gender Equality: Pledge for Parity” focuses on accelerating the 2030 Agenda, which among other things seeks to protect human rights and promote gender equality and empowerment of women and girls by ensuring that women and girls enjoy equal access to quality education, economic resources and political participation as well as equal opportunities with men and boys for employment, leadership and decision-making at all levels. The need to increase investments to close the gender gap and strengthen support for institutions in relation to gender equality and the empowerment of women at the all levels is noteworthy. All forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls will be eliminated, including through the engagement of men and boys. This builds on momentum for the effective implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals.’’

According to Dr. Yinkafalola-Anoemuah, assistant director (Gender and OVC) at the National agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA),’’ International Women’s Day is about feminism – not femininity: it is not just a day to express admiration for or about women; it is a day of action, a day to commit to women’s economic, social, political, sexual and reproductive health rights.’’

In tune with its evolutionary concepts, it is indeed a time to reflect on progress made, challenges encountered and a call for change and celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. What are these acts of courage and why should we take deep reflections?

Indeed, women assume very important roles in society. They are caregivers to the young and the old; they are mothers, workers, partners and community leaders. Women are also the quiet frontline for care of the sick, and the essential primary network for distribution of information about how to avoid ill-health and what to do in case of infection. Their physical and psychological make-up endow them with unique resources which the society draw both inspiration and energies to bear on development as well as maintain social equilibrium.

This is reflected in the principles of Gender equality, which embrace empowering all women and girls and is in tandem with one of 17 Global Goals that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

It is common knowledge that various elements of social, cultural and religious mores have combined to whittle down the potentials of women in most societies. Some of these factors are inequalities in access to paid employment, gaps between men and women in the labour market, exploitation and sexual violence, inequitable universal access to sexual and reproductive health, women equal rights to economic resources such as land and property.

Against the backdrop of these limitations and the need for governments to make national commitments to addressing challenges that hold women and girls back from reaching their potentials, Nigeria through the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, (NACA) explored gender equality to fill the yawning gap in public health, especially through scaling up HIV/AIDS national response.

The Agency rationalised the vicissitude of establishing a gender department, based on empirical evidences which it has gathered over time from the national HIV/AIDS response. ‘‘Gender inequality’’ notes NACA, ‘‘is known to be a strong driver of HIV/AIDS. Women and girls tend to have unequal power in sexual relationship, economic decision-making, and access to health information and services, all of which greatly influence their vulnerability to the disease.’’

Other significant strategies employed by the Agency to improve women access to health and empowerment as a total package include demand creation activities for Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS (PMTCT), and offer of voluntary HIV Counselling and testing at first contacts with pregnant women. The Agency in collaboration with MDGs has empowered hundreds of vulnerable women and people living with HIV/AIDS in Kaduna and Gwagwalada, in the Federal Capital Territory with skills acquisition and start up grants to commence income generating activities.

Moreover, NACA partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP to develop and disseminate the report of the Mapping of Laws, Policies and Services on Gender Based Violence (GBV) and its interactions with HIV in Nigeria (2014); it trained 38 participants from Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), networks and Civil Societies Organisations (CSOs) and linkages created at a workshop in Lagos on National HIV and Gender –based Violence International Programmes.

Also to address gender related issues in situations conflict and insurgency as well as in the national response, NACA, in collaboration with federal Ministry of Women and Social Development along other partners to develop and disseminate the Gender Based Violence in Nigeria and National Guidelines and Referrals Standards (2014). These efforts in collaboration with Orphans and Vulnerable Children initiatives have boosted the national response on HIV/AIDS and helped to narrow the gender inequality gap. Its ongoing activities which are tied with Nigeria’s policy directions on Gender are helping in achieving gender mainstreaming in all policies and measures, as envisaged by “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.”



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