Statement by African Women at the 8th International Women and Health Meeting, held in Rio de Janeiro, 16-20 March, 1997

Date Published: January 1, 1970

We thank the organizers of this meeting for allowing us this space to express our concerns and priorities as African Women. We acknowledge that the International Women's Health Movement (IWHM) has traditionally provided independent, relatively unencumbered space to women to articulate their vision and strategies and to work together to actualize them.

Although we were not originally scheduled to make presentations in the plenaries we felt that it is important for us to intervene as African women, as the theme of this meeting - "Women's Health, Poverty and Quality of Life" - and most of the issues raised in the plenaries, are burning issues for us, which women in our region live and experience every day.

We feel the impact of globalization of markets and structural adjustment policies intensely, and we would like to enlist the support and solidarity of the IWHM to advocate strategies for dealing with the problems of "Women's Health, Poverty and Quality of Life", which are inextricably linked.

We would like to highlight certain perspectives and issues that we think require attention than they have been given so far:

1. We ally ourselves with what previous speakers and discussants have said about the effects of globalization of markets on women's health. However, we wish to highlight the relationship between the drive for debt recovery, imposed structural adjustment programmes and the impoverishment of Africans. We call for the support of this IWHM in demanding the unconditional cancellation of the debt of African countries, and other highly indebted countries, so that Africa can enter the next millennium without this crippling debt burden.

2. We would like to reiterate and emphasize the importance of discussing and understanding women's health in a social context. The main factors that affect and undermine women's health in Africa are economic, social and political. We cannot therefore, in understanding problems of women's health and devising appropriate strategies to combat them, fail to give pride of place to these basic socio-economic determinants of health.

It is not enough simply to recognize their effect on women's health, we assert that they are today in Africa the primary health, reproductive and sexual rights issues.

They include:

a) Access to clean water, nutritious food and adequate shelter.
Access to resources to generate a livelihood is a major issue for women without which their very survival is in issue.

We are in this context concerned about the problems posed by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa. Women with AIDS have peculiar problems of management of the disease aggravated by poverty and lack of access to drugs and facilities for treating opportunistic infections.

b) Access to education and information.
We therefore decry the early limitation of girls horizons, through early marriage and childbirth, and lack of access for formal education.

c) Access to basic healthcare services.
To establish sustainable healthcare delivery systems; accessible, affordable and available to people, in particular to women, we must revive, tap and develop the vast resources we have in indigenous traditional medicine and healing, much of which was once dispensed by women and still is in many areas.

d) An end to conflicts and wars.
Peace and stability are prerequisites for women's health and the exercise of reproductive and sexual rights.

We strongly condemn the continuing war in the great lakes region of Africa, and call for solidarity from the International Women's Health Movement to end this senseless conflict, which has disrupted the lives of millions of women, disempowering them completely.

We note with concern the rising tide of religious fundamentalism and its negative impact on the status of women, especially its disempowering effects which are inextricably linked to the struggle for survival which makes women ready pawns for manipulation by powerful political interests.

CONCRETELY and URGENTLY, we call for:

1. An alliance of women from the North and South to advocate and lobby for debt cancellation, and allocation of resources to health, education and other development projects.

2. An alliance of women from the North and South to advocate for a stop to the sale of arms and support for despotic governments, at the international level. We need to work together for demilitarization, peace keeping initiatives and conflict resolution in the trouble spots of Africa, and the world, and we nee the active participation of women in these processes.

3. Participation of women in policy making and implementation at all levels of society, particularly in the health sector.

4. Channeling of resources into research and development of traditional medicine and forms of healing.

LASTLY,

We wish to say that our vision for a dynamic and effective International Women's Health Movement is one of a truly democratic and participatory movement, which provides a model of genuine understanding and respect for all women, irrespective of race/ethnic origin, class or other status.

Improved communication between groups of women is essential to realizing this vision and this is the foundation on which genuine solidarity necessary to achieve our goals can be built. Without this communication, understanding, respect, and solidarity in action, we are wasting valuable time and resources.

We look forward to working together with all of you, and the sisters unable to attend this meeting, to build and strengthen the International Women's Health Movement.