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Address plight of women, girls in urban slums

By People Daily
Tuesday, February 11th, 2020
Informal settlements. Photo/Courtesy

Esiet Uwemedimo  

Increasing numbers of people around the world are, for various reasons, moving both within national borders and internationally thus leading to rapid growth in cities.

However, according to the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat), at the end of 2012, an estimated 816 million persons were living in slums. 

Urbanisation is meant to be a great opportunity for all, especially young people, as it is meant to increase chances of escape from patriarchy, harmful traditional practices, while heralding new freedoms particularly in the areas of education, economic growth, increase access to social opportunities and services.

The trajectory of access and delivery of health care information and services is also to improve tremendously. 

While these possibilities exist, the reality is that women and girls in urban informal settlements are more vulnerable.

For instance, the burden of disease due to sexual and reproductive health rights especially sexual and gender based violence, are more prevalent in urban slums compared to the general population.

Further, issues of lack of security and safety in informal settlements continue to undermine the health and wellbeing of women and girls in the face of increasing poverty, economic challenges and inadequate urban management policies, legislations, infrastructure, and social services. 

Africa has the most countries with the highest prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation, adolescent pregnancy, maternal mortality, and HIV/Aids.

South Africa and Egypt are ranked among the top five countries with the worst incidences of sexual and gender-based violence. 

Furthermore, inadequate provision of information on sexual and reproductive health especially to the young has continued to perpetuate myths around these issues. This has resulted in the deepening of patriarchy and harmful practices.

Whilst women in developing countries have only a one in 3,800 lifetime risk of dying from causes related to maternity, the lifetime risk in Sub-Saharan Africa is one in 39, according to WHO.

This is worse for women living in informal settlements where virtually no health system exists or at best very fragile health systems. 

These are the issues that the 9th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights (ACSHR), being held in Nairobi, Kenya, under the theme ‘Advancing the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Women and Girls in Urban Informal Settlements’ seeks to deliberate on.

The February 10-14, 2020 event, hosted by the African Gender and Media Initiative Trust, aims at finding practical solutions to addressing the inequalities of women and girls in informal settlements across Africa. 

  Africa cannot afford to be the continent where concerted evidence based efforts to address these disparities are ignored under the guise of preserving culture and social norms that run contrary to the dignity and rights of women and girls.

An issue as simple as support to our children to successfully transit into successful adulthood has become contentious and polarising.

Why can we not provide factual, scientific accurate, age appropriate, gender sensitive life skills to our children especially with the gory statistics on HIV/Aids? 

Rather than take this in stride, we continue to infer unsubstantiated motives and try to frame this to mean recruitment of young people into early sexual initiation.

Africa cannot continue to behave as the proverbial ostrich that buries its head in the sand. 

We need to discuss the violence and assault of the dignity of our women and girls arising from FGM and forced marriage. 

Many countries in Africa could not achieve the Millennium Development Goals and we are at the threshold once more to ensure we meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

We, therefore, cannot afford to leave behind women and girls living in informal settlements. 

We must collectively act to make our cities livable for all, especially women and girls, if we must guarantee this global consensus desire. Together we will win because we are not equal until everyone is equal. — The writer is the Convenor of the 9th ACSHR