African woman appointed HIV/AIDS Special Envoy for Africa

Date: January 1, 1970
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United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s appointment of activist Elizabeth Mataka as the HIV/AIDS Special Envoy for Africa is an important step for gender equality in Africa, and for addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS on women. On the same day, 21 May, the General Assembly reviewed progress towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, and discussed the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls.

Botswana-born Mataka, who is currently the executive director of the Zambian National AIDS Network, takes over from Canadian Stephen Lewis, whose contract ended at the end of last year. It is exciting to note that her appointment comes barely a month after her election as vice-chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
It is clear that the fight for gender equality is yielding some much fought for results. Moon should be commended for being gender sensitive and recognising women as key partners in development. Mataka’s appointment should indeed encourage other international and national leaders to rise to the occasion and start appointing more women to key leadership positions.
Reacting to her appointment by Moon in Lusaka recently, Mataka noted that her new role brings her to the forefront of the challenges facing the continent when it comes to HIV/AIDS.
 “I am overwhelmed by the magnitude and the recognition of my work at the level of the UN office. I see this appointment as an opportunity to be more effective in the service for Africa on the specific challenges confronting the continent regarding HIV/AIDS, children and women,” Mataka said.
She added, “I see myself as an advocate who will speak very strongly to leverage support to the African continent. I also see this as an opportunity to engage African leaders to see that the continent pulls support towards fighting HIV/AIDS.”  
Since Africa has remained the hardest hit continent by HIV/AIDS, Mataka should use her appointment and election as vice chairperson for the Global Fund to work with all Africans to reduce prevalence rates. 
UNAIDS reports that women and girls living in sub-Saharan Africa account for almost 60% of adults living with HIV. Efforts to focus on promoting equal access to care and treatment, ensur­ing universal access to education, addressing legal in­equities, reducing violence against women, and valuing women’s care work within communities, are vital to addressing fundamental gender inequalities that are fueling the epidemic.
Violence against women continues to threaten women’s health and safety, no less when it comes to HIV. According to a report produced by the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, Studies from Rwanda, Tanzania, and South Africa indicate that the risk for HIV among women who have experienced violence may be up to three times higher than among those who have not.
During the review session, General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa encouraged UN Member States to recognise the feminisation of HIV/AIDS. She noted that there are some very practical things that can be done to make a tangible difference in women’s lives. 
Stephen Lewis was undoubtedly a high energy, outspoken leader, noted for his  commitment to women and girls on the continent. Yet to have an African woman as Special Envoy, the first appointed from civil society, is an example for the continent.
There is no doubt that Mataka would discharge her duties as UN special HIV/AIDS special envoy for Africa diligently. A social worker by training, she is a tested leader whose 16 years working experience in HIV/AIDS related work will benefit Africa. As a policy maker and activist, she has worked with Government as well as in the private sector and non-governmental organisations.
As a personality, Mataka exhibits striking maturity and exceptional commitment in her role as a social worker. She has all that it takes to perform to the expectations of Moon and all Africans.
Heads of State in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have affirmed their commitment to ensuring 50% representation of women in decision-making positions. This means not just ensuring that women are in leadership position in politics, put also in business, social development, and everywhere where decisions are made.
There are so many qualified women in Africa, who are denied influential positions in various sectors of societies by virtue of their gender. Such tendencies are retrogressive and inhibit development in countries. It is time to eliminate the myth of key leadership positions being solely a man’s domain and realise that women are key partners in development, so that the world can move forward. 
Hone Liwanga is a journalists and member of the Gender and Media Southern Africa (GEMSA) Network in Zambia. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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