HUMAN RIGHT EMPOWERMENT FOR GIRLS MUST BE ADDRESSED RIGHT AWAY

This year’s theme for the International Day, “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world“, celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. SANAC Women Sector representative, Denise Zambezi, gave an address which highlighted Human Rights limitation in accessing health care, and economic empowerment and impact on Adolescent Girls & Young Women (AGYW).

2019 World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that Covid19 was going to be a global pandemic, health and economic crisis. In March 2021 South African introduced the lockdown protocols under the state of emergency as a response to the pandemic. Lockdown had a varied implication on citizens depending on class, social position, gender sexual identity and ageism. Over and above human rights challenges experienced by women, existing gender inequalities increased in the past year.

The pandemic has brought into sharp and painful focus that even before COVID-19 an estimated 34 million girls between the ages of 12 and 14 years were out of school, one in three women globally reported having experienced physical or sexual violence and women the world over worked longer hours for less or no pay.

In South Africa, HIV prevalence is reported to be high amongst women and girls. To understand the factors behind their risk of HIV we will need to expound relay the rise in Human Rights Violations towards women such as Rights to access health care, food, water and Right to social security (Section27) and Right to education (Section 29).

The menstruation cycle for a young girl can be associated with shame, embarrassment and uncleanliness. There is one study found that adolescent girls in South Africa can miss up to five days of school per month due to menstruation (Khumalo, 2015). Women and girls often don’t have enough money to buy female hygiene products. The adolescent girls struggling to buy female hygiene products must turn to rags and socks.

Denise Zambezi mentioned that “Women who do not have the sanitary pad, access to sanitation or even economically disempowered also face a social-economic burden and experience limited Right to Dignity (Section 10) as promised in the Constitution of South Africa.”

A great deal has been done by the Civil Society in circulating sanitary pads with essential packs during the pandemic in South Africa. We have many sectors that are facing long-term hardships and the impact is always felt predominantly by women in our society who are receiving less than the minimum wage as recommended by the government. We need to empower the girl child in South Africa by lobbying harder for Human Rights empowerment, access to health care, access to education and protection for AGYW.

“In our weekly series of engagement, we unpack our challenges and opportunities in response to Covid19 as experienced at a local level in South Africa. The pandemic brought to the fore severe realities on how health has heightened gender inequalities. However, the role of Civil Society is to create a consensus that something must be done and we must get on with it with great speed and efficiency,” said Steve Letsike, SANAC Co-Chairperson.

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