Weblog by Mary Robinson, President of Realizing Rights
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Monday, February 20th 2006
I arrived in Tanzania late last night with my colleagues from Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative. Since I founded Realizing Rights in 2002, we have made visits to countries across Africa to learn from those directly affected by globalization?s challenges, and to convene workshops and meetings of people working towards solving those problems. This week in Tanzania we hope to learn about strengthening local health systems to realize the right to health for all, and methods of promoting trade which in turn supports sustainable development, and the gender dimensions of donor assistance.
Tanzanian health policy is already very progressive; the constitution guarantees health as every person?s right. And so it is a natural pilot country for the Parliamentarians for Women?s Health project, which we facilitate with the International Center for Research on Women, European Parliamentarians for Africa, Centre for the Study of AIDS at the University of Pretoria, International Community of Women Living with AIDS, and select parliamentarians from Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia and Botswana. The inaugural Tanzanian National workshop was held today in Dar es Salaam. Lediana Mafuru, a Tanzanian MP, affirmed that coordination is the missing piece needed to break the cycle of poor women?s health, and that the PWH project is what she hopes will provide it. I was inspired by Lediana?s words as she took to the stage and loudly called for the participants to throw away their conference badges and return to their villages and do what they can to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS particularly among women.
?Men?, she said, ?This is your daughter, this is your wife. Women: this is your sister, this is your mother. We have plenty of initiatives; [PWH] is not just another one. The time for talk is over, because the loss of one woman is the loss of the whole community?.
Mary Robinson makes closing remarks at the Parliamentarians for Women's Health Tanzania workshop.
The caucus of five parliamentarians we gathered today are certainly not lacking in dynamism. The G5, as we have christened them, together with the NGOs and civil society representatives participating in our workshop, formed a vibrant group committed to realizing health for all of Tanzania?s women. They spent the day brainstorming goals for the PWH project, and came out with some exciting and ambitious targets. These parliamentarians will now work with the wider Tanzanian health community to achieve these targets ? and in the words of one delegate, be the ?leading lights shining the way to success?.
Today about 8% of Tanzanians are HIV positive. Tanzania also accounted for nearly 4% of the world?s 529,000 maternal deaths in 2000 with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. We know how to treat HIV positive patients so that they have the best quality of life possible; and we have had for decades the tools to make pregnancy and childbirth as safe as possible. Yet in Tanzania whole segments of the population are dying from AIDS. Also telling is the greeting Africans offer pregnant women--?your grave is open??which they offer before congratulations. Such are the dangers to a woman?s life.
If we are to heal the rift between citizens and their health service we must start at the community level. A few years ago the nations of Africa came together, and made a commitment to spend 15% of their budgets on health. This promise, the Abuja Declaration, is still only a target, but Tanzania?s spending currently stands at 3% - and to hold the government on course for this goal, we needed a strong caucus of dynamic parliamentarians to push the women?s health agenda in parliament. The political will has not yet reached the tipping point in many countries, including Tanzania, to make good health happen for all people, especially for women, but I am certain that the parliamentarians we met with today, and the PWH project, will do much to achieve the momentum needed to achieve the right to health for all in Tanzania.