Honorable Minister of Housing and Urban Development;
Peace Corps Country Director;
Representatives from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation;
GLOW and BRO Counselors and club members;
Ladies and gentlemen,
I’m so pleased to join you, once again, for this march against HIV and AIDS to commemorate those who have lost their battles to the virus. While we honor these loved ones, we also pay tribute to our families, friends, and neighbors who thrive in spite of their diagnosis. These are true heroes because they continue to demonstrate how rich, healthy, and fulfilling life can be when you take control of your diagnosis instead of the other way around.
Yesterday, I spoke at the World AIDS Day National Event in Shiselweni. During that speech, I highlighted Swaziland’s progress to reduce new HIV infections and complimented our amazing partners who work hard each day to reach more people with treatment and preventive measures. The GLOW and BRO clubs are central to this effort. Sadly, we are continuing to see an outsized impact of HIV among girls and young women. Across the world, girls face greater risk of contracting HIV due, in part, to elevated levels of gender-based violence, including rape, sexual abuse, and forced marriage. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 75% of AIDS cases are female – a statistic that should alarm everyone’s senses. Young girls are also less likely to continue their studies after falling pregnant, leaving them without the necessary educational resources to overcome future socioeconomic challenges.
Increasingly, we recognize that, in our singular focus to uplift the girl child, we have neglected the boys and young men that may grow up to perpetrate violence. If we want to prevent gender-based violence in the future, it starts now by nurturing boys that are emotionally empowered, respectful, and responsible citizens. So I want to commend equally the mentors, counselors, and volunteers managing the BRO Clubs. They deserve our utmost support and encouragement as they work to fill an important gap in Swaziland to promote boys’ empowerment.
Lastly, thank you to GLOW, BRO, and to all of the communities where you have set down roots for being a part of the solution. Sometimes, people become so attached to the problem that they are unable to see solutions. All of you here today exemplify transformational leadership. You are not only raising your voices about HIV and AIDS, you are addressing the underlying causes within your communities. These actions send an important message to young people – that their voices and lives matter and that there is a way forward as long we work together. Siyabonga.