"We Must Prioritize Women's Health in Africa as the Key to Development" -Tewodros Melesse

14th November 2016
 IPPF Director General Tewodros Melesse during an African First Ladies’ seminar

Saturday 27 August 2016, Nairobi, Kenya

The IPPF Director General, Mr. Tewodros Melesse has decried the shyness -and sometimes hypocrisy with which issues of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) are dealt with in Africa, especially by its leaders.

“When talking about development, there has always been the tendency to prioritize other issues, but not those of sexuality. Yet, conversations about Africa’s development cannot be meaningful without giving credence to reproductive health rights, and more so those pertaining to girls and women. If we fail to tackle women’s challenges in accessing quality healthcare, then we cannot make progress with regard to women’s empowerment. Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights are fundamental to women’s advancement, and women’s advancement means development for Africa. This must be recognized and prioritized by our African governments,” he said.

Mr. Melesse was speaking during an African First Ladies’ seminar titled: ‘Investing in Child and Maternal Health for Social Transformation in Africa: Spotlight on Evidence Based Interventions’The seminar was organized by the African First Ladies’ attending the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI).

In his remarks, Mr. Melesse cited the various impediments to African women’s success, such as early marriages –which leads to many girls ending thier schooling.

“With no education, this only creates fertile grounds for her poverty and that of her family. Further, when a woman has no access to family planning information and services, then she is not able to adequately space her births or have the number of desired children, and with many mouths to feed, then this becomes a great challenge for her –only enhancing her poverty status. It also becomes hard for her to gain meaningful employment or sustain a job, more so when she has to take frequent breaks from work to care for her pregnancies or young children. That is the reality, especially in the private sector,” he said.

Mr. Melesse said that tackling sexual reproductive health and rights for women is one of the sure ways to elevate the status of African women.

“Supporting women’s rights means that we will have more women represented in the higher echelons of power, including in Parliament. It also means that we will have more women who are able to attain a tertiary education status. It will also mean that we will have more women in the employment sector, and more women in entrepreneurship, among other sectors,” he said.

Mr. Melesse also recognized some of the progress that has been made with regard to the support of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights in the continent.

“Most African governments have aligned themselves with the stipulations of the Maputo Plan of Action (MPoA), together with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This progress has to be acknowledged. However, while we have the framework, the key issue is their implementation, where African governments must honor their commitments towards Africa’s development. I must also commend Kenya’s First Lady H.E Margaret Kenyatta for her ‘Beyond Zero Campaign’, which is indeed an example of a noble initiative that can be emulated across the region, as it focuses on women’s health, and especially maternal health,” he said.

Mr. Melesse reiterated the fact that health is critical to development, and women’s health is central to this.

“We must not be shy to talk about sex and reproductive health. We must have these conversations that will ensure that every African child is wanted, that every African woman is healthy, and that she is a human being whose rights are respected,” he concluded.

Other panelists included: Dr. Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko –African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti –Regional Director, WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr. Seth Berkley, Chief Executive Officer GAVI –the Vaccine Alliance, Ms. Katherine Perry, Country Coordinator (Kenya) U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and a representative of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The session was moderated by Ms. Julie Gichuru, Kenyan journalist and host of Africa Leadership Dialogues