By MARTIN NYIRENDA -
SHE is driving her responsibilities towards the economic emancipation of women and girls.
First Lady Christine Kaseba, the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) Zambia Chapter Programme Coordinator, a medical doctor and a versatile community health worker-is equally overwhelmed with the alarming rate of unsafe abortions which remain a chief public health challenge not only in Zambia but in most developing countries.
Although statistics indicate high numbers of women, especially young girls dying from unsafe abortions, the topic remains very emotive and controversial subject.
In Zambia alone, unsafe abortion contributes to as much as 30 per cent to maternal mortality.
In view of this scenario, the First Lady in November 2013 launched a documentary titled ‘Conversations of Abortions’ produced by IPas.
Ipas is a global non-profit organisation that works around the world to eliminate deaths and injuries from unsafe abortion and increase women’s ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights.
It is anticipated that the documentary will break the silence and serve as a tool to raise awareness around the consequences of unsafe abortion and generate discussions on possible solutions including provision of safe abortions within the full extent of the Zambian laws.
Enter child marriages which have dominated newspaper headlines especially in rural parts of the country. With this, the First Lady’s Office has continued to forge partnerships with traditional leaders and other partners on the campaign against child marriages.
Arising from the launch of the ‘Banning Child Marriages Campaign’ by Dr Kaseba in April last year, the campaign yielded affirmative action from various stakeholders ranging from traditional leaders to policy makers and government officials.
Only recently, there have been many media reports of traditional leaders banning child marriages in their chiefdoms and rescuing young girls in these marriages and taking them back to school.
Parents and guardians who have consented to such marriages are increasingly being reported for such offences.
Today plans are underway to formulate a national policy under the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs.
Gender Based Violence
The First Lady is the World Health Organisation (WHO) Good will Ambassador against Gender Based Violence (GBV) and has led the national advocacy efforts against this scourge as she continues to add her voice at international forums.
Zambia enacted the Anti-Gender Based Violence Act of 2011 but despite this law, the country continues to record high numbers of GBV cases some of which have resulted in loss of life especially when you acknowledge that the 2007 Demographic Health Survey reveals that 47 per cent of women in Zambia have experienced physical violence and one in every ten women has experienced sexual violence in their lifetime!
Every year Zambia joins the rest of the world in commemorating the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence.
Last year, the First Lady launched the 2013 commemoration which attracted participation from government institutions, civil society, faith and community based organisations involving men, women and children.
In her keynote address, Dr Kaseba challenged law enforcement agencies, policy makers and the general public to seriously enforce the Anti-GBV Act in its entirety and also urged men to be more positively involved in the war against GBV.
She calls on the private sector too to be innovative in their participation to curb the vice by channeling their corporate social responsibilities towards the economic emancipation of women and girls.
The First Lady went on to officiate at the launch of the One-Stop Centre under the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) in partnership with Kansanshi Copper Mines and the Ministries of Health and Community Development Mother to Child Health in Solwezi, in North Western province.
It was during the launch that Dr Kaseba lamented the escalating levels of GBV in the country despite high awareness levels coupled with the enactment of the law to prosecute offenders.
One-Stop Centres have proved as an effective way of dealing with GBV as they help survivors to access medical, legal and psychological services under one roof.
She strongly takes a sweeping swipe against those promoting and condoning GBV as an acceptable cultural norm.
In realising that public mobilisation is a powerful tool for getting citizens involved in issues affecting their day-to-day lives, the First Lady continues to apply public mobilisation strategy to widely disseminate information, engage the general public and participating in various community activities, something which has won her praise from members of society.
She has also engaged the public on various health related issues-including pediatric Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) – much to the delight of the recipients of her message.
Other topics she has covered range from HIV pediatric diagnosis and treatment and the availability of such services in the country – Option B+; risk of infection among women of reproductive age, continuum of care for babies born from HIV positive women, and family support for children affected by HIV/AIDS.
She has been advocating for linkages between the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education to increase the uptake of ART services among school going children living with HIV/AIDS.
The First Lady also appeared on the national television on a programme called ‘Your Health Matters,’ supported by the Ministry of Health to sensitise the nation on Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) and the need for HIV Counseling and Testing as well as the importance of male involvement in effective PMTCT management.
During the commemoration of the International Day of the Girl Child which falls in June every year, the First Lady appeared on a special interview on the national television to share her insights on how girl children can be encouraged to thrive just like their male counterparts.
She shared her thoughts on many challenges that the girl child faces in the area of education, health and also the rights of the girl child.
Dr KAseba challenged parents and policy makers to ensure the environment in which girls belonged was conducive.
Other issues that Dr Kaseba has extensively discussed through the public electronic media include maternal health challenges focusing mainly on obstetric hemorrhage and the use of the Non Pneumatic anti Shock Garment (NASG.
She used this platform to shed more light on some of the interventions that have worked in reducing maternal mortality and also advocated for increasing in budgetary allocation to the health sector.
As the role of the First Lady as both an advocate and a ceremonial replacement for the President continue to grow, DR Kaseba has scored a first in helping to foster an improved health care system in the country which was accessible to the general population, especially men, women and the girl child in remote parts of the country.