The International Council of Nurses has appointed former health minister, Professor Sheila Tlou, Ambassador of the Girl-Child Education Fund (GCEF) and by the Florence Nightingale International Foundation. The GCEF supports the primary and secondary schooling of orphaned daughters of nurses in developing countries.
Tlou, who is now based in South Africa where she is the Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa, says that her ambassadorial role is part and parcel of what she already does. Her work at UNAIDS involves AIDS advocacy among leaders in the 21 countries of Eastern and Southern Africa. This is advocacy on meeting the ten targets of the 2011 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS that heads of state have committed to. One of the targets is “eliminating gender inequalities and gender-based violence and increasing the capacity of women and girls to protect themselves from HIV.”
Tlou visits countries to discuss with civil society and political leaders, issues of gender equality, putting more resources into the AIDS response and also ensures that the local United Nations team supports the country in the formulation of gender-responsive sustainable plans for the AIDS response.
“But my responsibility will now extend to the rest of the world. For example, I could, on a trip to Norway, meet with the Minister of Finance and advocate, based on evidence, that more of their aid resources be allocated for the GCEF because it is doing such great work in empowering the orphaned girl child in Africa,” she told Sunday Standard.
She undertook her first assignment last week when she addressed the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York.
“I spoke to delegations on how research has shown that education is one of the most effective preventative tools against HIV and AIDS; that girls who complete secondary education are three times less likely to contract HIV because they are usually then empowered to delay sexual activity, to make responsible decisions on their sexuality, and to negotiate relationships, including leaving abusive relationships that are likely to predispose them to HIV infection,” Tlou says.
She laments the fact that education is still not free in most countries and where it is, it is seldom compulsory. “This is a real disadvantage for girl-children because they are often the first to be pulled out of school to care for a family member with AIDS or to care for siblings when a parent dies,” she says.
While the GCEF cause is a noble one, there is a feeling among that there is too much focus on the girl-child at the expense of the boy-child. To this Tlou says that it depends on what the focus is.
“If we are educating for gender-sensitive programming, then the focus should be on both the girl-child and the boy-child because the aim is to change attitudes for gender equality, respect and mutual accountability.”
On the other hand, she argues that if the purpose is to bring the girl-child on a par with the boy-child in terms of access to resources and services right now, then focus should be on the former.
“Let’s say she is still at 40 percent in terms of access to services but the boy-child is already at 80 percent. Then we need to focus solely on her – even by way of quotas, so that she reaches that 80 percent access too,” Tlou says.
She gives a home-grown example of two Form 5 school-leavers (one male the other female) and considers their chances of getting a job in the Botswana Defence Force.
“The male, just by virtue of being male, immediately gets a job as a military recruit but the woman is not taken because in the advert they specified that the job is for ‘male privates.’ She may even have obtained better marks than him and in the absence of any employment, she ends up being his maid or, worse, his sex worker! She becomes economically dependent on him and cannot even negotiate safe sex. Now, for social justice and equal access to resources, this scenario calls for a quota to be established in the military such that 52 percent of all recruits are women. You are then not focussing on the male (because he is already there) but on the previously disadvantaged female and taking her from 2 percent to 52 percent,” Tlou says.
A specially-elected MP in the last parliament, Tlou was minister of health from 2004 to 2008. Before joining politics, she was a professor of nursing at the University of Botswana and has served a stint as director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Nursing and Midwifery Development in Primary Health Care for Anglophone Africa.