Columnists Features

Female legislators tackle child marriage, GBV

BENEDICT TEMBO, Lusaka
GERTRUDE Imenda, then as Luena member of Parliament and her Munali constituency counterpart Nkandu Luo, acknowledged that Zambia was facing unique issues of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).
These concerns are limited access to sexual and reproductive health information and services among young people, teenage pregnancy and child marriage, gender-based violence, HIV prevalence, poor sexual and reproductive health rate and maternal mortality.
However, Ms Imenda said despite the country being concerned about SRHR issues, she did not have much time as an individual during the life of Parliament, which dissolved on May 13 to advocate for these because she concentrated on development in her constituency in Western Province.
Ms Imenda is happy to have participated in the drafting of the SADC Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and protecting those already in marriage. The Parliamentary Forum is spearheading the development of this regional law.
She was the chairperson of the SADC PF’s Committee on Human and Social Development and Special Programmes.
“We [SADC Parliamentary Forum] feel that child marriage is another form of child abuse, these issues came to the SADC Parliamentary Forum, there is a bill coming on early/child marriage. The bottom line is that nobody below the age of 18 should be married,” Ms Imenda says.
And Minister of Gender Nkandu Luo says some of the SHRH issues are being championed through the HeForShe campaign by female parliamentarians.
Prof Luo, who was the coordinator of the Zambian Caucus for Women Parliamentarians in the just dissolved Parliament, says they are getting together to talk about SRHR issues.
As female Parliamentarians, they went to Nyampande to look at the model the Ministry of Gender has put in place there to end child marriages.
Chief Nyampande of the Nsenga people of Petauke district is one of the pioneers for ending child marriage.
Prof Luo says the caucus of female parliamentarians worked closely with her ministry in implementing a four-year strategic plan, which provides for actions to be taken by various partners.
Government, through the Ministry of Gender, has also mooted the 2016-2021 national strategy on ending child marriage in Zambia by 2030.
The HeForShe is a worldwide feminist campaign launched by the United Nations Women to promote gender equality by encouraging men to openly speak out against sexism and discrimination in solidarity with the women rights movement.
Prof Luo says Parliament has drafted the Marriage and Child Code Bill which defines a child.
“Currently, Zambia has no definition of a child,” Prof Luo says.
Precious Zandonda, the gender communication officer at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says Zambia has made significant progress in improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes over the past 20 years.
Ms Zandonda says fewer women are dying in pregnancy and childbirth as maternal mortality rates have dropped from 729 in 2002 to 398 in 2014.
“More women are able to decide if, when and how often to have children as contraceptive prevalence rates have increased from nine percent in 1992 to 45 percent in 2014. More mothers have access to maternal health services as reflected by a rise in births assisted by a skilled attendant from 50 percent in 1992 to 64 percent in 2014,” she says.
However, Ms Zandonda notes that significant inequalities remain, which limit equitable access to quality sexual reproductive health information and services.
She says the impact of unfulfilled SRHR is reported to be experienced mostly amongst the poorest rural and urban populations, as well as young people who experience limited access to sexual reproductive health services and record unfulfilled SRHR.
“As we have seen, maternal mortality rates dropped from 729 in 2002 to 398 in 2014, though this decline has not been sufficient to meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets for MDG number five,” she says.
Ms Zandonda says more mothers have access to maternal health services as reflected by an increase in births assisted by a skilled provider from 43 percent in 2002 to 64 percent in 2014.
More women with obstetric fistula have access to treatment and reintegration services, as reflected by an increase in the total number of fistula survivors after successful treatment – from an estimated 160 in 2005 to 1,786 by 2015. On HIV prevalence, Ms Zandonda says despite an increase in the percentage of women who have ever tested for HIV and received results from 19 percent in 2007 to 78 percent in 2014, the HIV prevalence rate has marginally reduced from 15.6 percent in 2001 to 13.3 percent in 2014.
“Among women aged 15 to 49, prevalence rates dropped from 17.8 percent in 2001 to 15.1 percent in 2014.
This marginal reduction is mainly due to new infections, which calls for more targeted investments, especially among marginalised women and girls,” she says.
Ms Zandonda says key drivers of HIV in Zambia include low comprehensive knowledge about HIV (42 percent of women and 49 percent of men aged 15 to 49 have limited knowledge of HIV), low and inconsistent use of condoms.
Only 40 percent of girls and 49 percent of boys aged 15 to 24 used a condom at their last sexual encounter.
Multiple and concurrent partnerships and low HIV testing among young people has also been cited as a big problem.
The 2014 Zambia and Demographic and Health Survey indicates that 43 percent of women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15 and that the most commonly reported perpetrators of physical violence among married women are current partners (63 percent) followed by former partners (29 percent).
However, in spite of this increase, the unmet need for family planning among this cohort of women remains relatively high at 21 percent.
For adolescents, only 18 percent of sexually active unmarried girls and 36 percent of married girls aged 15 to 19 are currently using modern contraception.
Zambia has one of the highest child marriage prevalence rates globally, with 31.4 percent of girls aged 20 to 24 married by the age of 18.
An indepth analysis of the 2013-2014 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey indicates that the girls most vulnerable to teenage pregnancy and child marriage have low levels of education. Data also indicates that almost 30 percent of girls aged between 15 and 19 have experienced physical or sexual violence from a husband or partner.
With funding from Sweden, the SADC PF is implementing a four-year project to build the capacity of women Parliamentarians in general and National Parliaments in particular to advocate for universal access to SRHR, HIV and AIDS and governance issues.

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