Canberra members of AFSAAP were delighted to have the subject of Africa appear on the ANU agenda on the 6th May – an uncommon occurrence given the prevailing bias towards Asia and the Pacific. In order to promote discussion on maternal and sexual health, access to healthcare and education and Female Genital Mutilation the ANU Circle for Gender Equity held its second seminar for the semester with the discussion focusing on healthcare in Africa. About thirty-five ANU students (including four males) and others attended the seminar.
The programme included:
- A presentation by Jacqueline Zwambila, former Zimbabwean ambassador to Australia provided a very comprehensive overview of health issues on the African continent. She bemoaned the fact that although leaders at the AU had many appropriate policies little was actioned at the grassroots level – and that there was no mention of Gender issues listed on the African Union website. She also noted the role of women in power, with women now becoming presidents (two so far) and Rwanda having a requirement for 42% female representation in parliament, but that much more needed to be done in all countries to improve women’s participation.
- A focus on the subject of Female Genital Mutilation. The audience was treated to a video by Khadjija Gbla who puts across the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) story in a very personal and surprisingly humorous way which in no way lessened the seriousness of the issue. Khadija, a Sierra Leonean, is now living in Adelaide and is very active in raising awareness about the need to stop FGM in Australia – the need for which surprises many people. http://www.ted.com/talks/khadija_gbla_my_mother_s_strange_definition_of_empowerment?language=en
- Margaret O’Callaghan, former UNFPA representative and currently Visiting Fellow at the Crawford School, then commented on the subject of FGM, providing anecdotes from her UN days and putting the subject into a multi-sectoral context. She highlighted the importance of looking at health issues from a psycho-social angle in order to really understand the reasons for why things were happening the way they were. In particular she recommended that the audience read this article in order to understand why it was that women were the major supporters in the continuation of the custom.
- Jane Armstrong, Clinical Training Manager of the Aspen Medical Australia, then spoke about the management of emergency training and support of an Australian and New Zealand health personnel team. This emergency exercise was funded by DFAT as Australia’s contribution to addressing the recent epidemic in Sierra Leone. She noted that not only did they contribute to saving lives and providing palliative care to others who weren’t so lucky, but they helped to prevent the infection from spreading further.
Unfortunately because of the very full programme there was insufficient time for audience participation, which always provides much added value to such an event.
Provided by Margaret O’Callaghan, former UNFPA Representative and currently Visiting Fellow at ANU’s Crawford School