Press release: SADC #Voice&Choice Barometer

Press release: SADC #Voice&Choice Barometer

Date: August 17, 2020
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For Immediate Release: Virtual launch: Monday 17 August @14.00-16.00 SA Time

Johannesburg: The twelfth edition of the SADC Gender Protocol Barometer will be launched virtually on Monday 17 August 2020 during the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Civil Society Forum, which is also SADC day. The SADC Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (SADC-CNGO) coordinates the Civil Society Forum.

#VoiceandChoice in the time of COVID-19 has 11 chapters that include an overview chapter, seven chapters on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), an economic justice chapter, climate justice chapter and a governance chapter. The Barometer, which, focuses on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on gender equality, will be the first edition to be launched virtually through the Southern Africa Gender Community due to the pandemic restrictions.

In August 2020, SADC accounted for 58% of the African and 3% of the global COVID-19 cases. South Africa, with 92% of all cases in the region and 53% of all cases in Africa, is the hardest hit SADC country.

The Barometer has been produced for the last twelve years by the Southern African Gender Protocol Alliance, a network of Women’s Rights Organisations that campaigned for the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development in 2008, its updating and alignment to the Sustainable Development Goals in 2016.

With a foreword by Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, the 2020 #VoiceandChoice Barometer provides evidence of progress on the ground through empirical data, case studies and media stories. It also covers Comoros, SADC’s newest member state for the first time. The Barometer links the #VoiceandChoice Campaign in the time of COVID-19 to other gender equality campaigns such as the #MeToo, #TimesUp, #TotalShutdown, #FemaleLivesMatter and many other women’s rights campaigns.

The Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) chapters measure 100 indicators in seven thematic areas including Sexual and Reproductive Health; adolescent SRHR; safe abortion; GBV; HIV and AIDS; harmful practices and sexual diversity. The report draws key lessons from spirited #VoiceandChoice SRHR campaigns led by the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance and over 130 local government Centres of Excellence. The Barometer highlights the gendered impact of COVID-19.

The key findings of the #SADCGenderBarometer2020 include:

  • COVID-19 threatens fragile SRHR gains made in the SADC region. However, the pandemic has also opened opportunities to explore multi-sector approaches for achieving gender equality by 2030. Bridging the digital gender gap will help achieve #VoiceandChoice in the time of COVID-19.

  • Fourteen countries in SADC remain below the target of 70 deaths per 100 000 women. Of the 16 SADC countries, 14 now have stand-alone policies or guidelines on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).

  • Six SADC countries (Lesotho, Mauritius, Seychelles, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) have removed Value Added Tax (VAT) from menstrual hygiene products and five (Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Seychelles, and Zambia) now provide free sanitary pads in schools.

  • Governments have struggled to keep commitments to achieving universal access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • UNESCO estimates that 75 million learners enrolled in primary and secondary schools in Southern Africa (more than 70% of students) were out of school due to COVID-19 from February to May 2020. Bowing to local and global advocacy, and in a major policy reversal, the Tanzanian government committed to providing pregnant girls with equal opportunity to education in March 2020.

  • No SADC country totally bans abortion, but most conditions under which women can obtain abortions remain restrictive. Little change has occurred in legislation in the last year, but DRC and Mozambique have made strides to improve their legislative framework for abortion. The Guttmacher Institute reports that 24% of all pregnancies in Southern Africa end in abortion. The 2019 Nairobi International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) firmly established that safe abortion services and treatment of complications from unsafe abortion represent one of nine essential elements SRHR service.

  • COVID-19 is disrupting HIV services. This could lead to an additional 500,000 deaths in sub-Saharan Africa by the end of 2021 and regression of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme to levels of a decade ago. Community care workers have been called into COVID-19 service to support testing and will likely support those that contract COVID-19 and not be hospitalised.

  • COVID-19 lockdowns could have a “catastrophic impact” on women, leading to a 20% surge in domestic violence cases. Restrictions linked to the pandemic have worsened existing gender inequalities and left many women and girls without options to escape violent settings as governments across the region shuttered clinics and shelters and limited response mechanisms.

  • Emerging harmful practices in the region, such as skin lightening/bleaching and vaginal tightening have negative impacts on women’s health yet remain readily available. In Eswatini, the progressive Sexual and Domestic Violence Act continued to face resistance, mostly because it criminalises marital rape. DRC is on track to pass its Disability Rights Bill in 2020.

  • Three countries (Mauritius, Namibia, and South Africa) allow LGBTI people to change their gender markers. Mauritius and South Africa ban conversion therapy, which causes extensive physical and psychological damage.

The Barometer launch is the first of many cyber dialogues that will debate key findings and how to apply these to strengthening #VoiceandChoice campaigns.

For more information on how to join the virtual launch, click here.
For interviews please contact Sifiso Dube on 078 274 5428 or Kubi Rama on 071 616 5556).

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