Thank you for inviting me to discuss the U.S. government’s commitment to advancing sexual and reproductive health rights in Swaziland. As we look broadly at the Sustainable Development Goals, and link them to our efforts on the ground, it is clear that sexual and reproductive health rights cut across several categories, including goals that address gender equality, health access, and economic opportunities. The situation for women often worsens under repressive socioeconomic and cultural confinements. But men also need long-term interventions to promote societal well-being and self-care. Positive or negative changes in men’s behavior can have an immediate impact on their families and communities. Encouraging men to take up the banner of responsibility for their health and the health of their families remains a worldwide challenge, but it is one that both civil society and government stakeholders can and should tackle together.
The Sustainable Development Goals embody the spirit of partnership and collaboration that will be vital to ensure prosperity, equality, and growth for all. These 17 goals build on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals, and include new priority areas such as innovation, sustainable consumption, and climate change. The goals are interconnected and demonstrate how success in one area requires cooperation in another. For NGOs and civil society organizations working here in Swaziland, your methods may vary but your goals are interconnected, requiring a holistic plan of action to succeed.
I am most impressed that this regional conference fosters learning and sharing among partners. And by capturing voices within the LGBTI network, an often underserved and under-resourced community, you are leading by example on important matters of inclusion and human rights. You also develop a platform for meaningful and sustainable action. Recently, the local press has been abuzz with Senator Ngwenya’s motion calling for a government report on access to health services for LGBTI persons. Historically, women have been at the center of the debate in Swaziland on equal access to health services, but thanks to The Rock of Hope and its allies, this issue has expanded the conversation and is gaining momentum. Discrimination, stigma, and entrenched social norms do not only degrade a person’s humanity, but they breach several SDGs that prioritize reducing inequalities, seeking justice, and providing equal access to resources.
When it comes to supporting the Sustainable Development Goals in Swaziland, I like to think the U.S. government’s actions speak for themselves. Through our partners -namely Pact, HC3, and PSI – PEPFAR is implementing DREAMS activities, which seek to build determined, resilient, AIDS-free, mentored and safe girls. By striving to reduce new HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women, Swaziland is well on its way to delivering on two key SDGs – goal #3, promoting good health and well-being for all and goal #5, empowering all women and girls.
Thanks to our partners, our interventions touch many key populations across Swaziland. And I’d like to highlight just a few of their community engagements. In line with access to sexual and reproductive health resources, Pact is providing referrals to youth-friendly clinical services, including HIV counseling and testing, voluntary medical male circumcision, access to condoms, and linkages to HIV care and treatment. They also provide support for adolescents living with HIV including teen clubs, which encourage adherence to treatment.
HC3 works alongside traditional and community leaders to support youth development and to create safe and protective environments for young women. Together, they develop community plans that address gender and social norms that put girls at higher risk of contracting HIV. They show girls how to make smart financial choices. And they encourage male partners of young women to make responsible decisions.
PSI takes a whole-of-family approach to their interventions, reaching out to men between the ages of 20 and 34 and to adolescent girls about protecting themselves. Mobile health services, delivered through the DREAMS mobiles, have given new life to many communities that lacked proper health facilities. Through these mobile clinics, young women can receive health screenings, counseling, and referrals for those who may test positive for HIV. Men can access these important services, too. They receive HIV counseling and testing, family planning education, STI and TB screenings, and sexual health counseling. These one-stop shops are proving crucial to building a generation of informed citizens who know their status and are taking action to stay healthy.
The progress we’re seeing on these initiatives is a direct result of your efforts and the relationships you’ve advanced under challenging circumstances, including a shrinking space for different voices and perspectives. I urge you to continue coordinating your efforts whenever feasible and practical. As this conference proves, you must share your resources, contacts, and ideas to move the ball forward together. Continue speaking out for each other when you feel there’s been an injustice, as we’ve seen Rock of Hope, Health4Men Plus, and Kwakha Indvodza bravely do. Sexual and reproductive health rights form an important piece of the human rights discussion, and it is our collective responsibility to safeguard against blatant violations.