JOHANNESBURG (TrustLaw) - The U.S.-based Global Business Coalition on Tuesday held the African launch of its “Healthy Women, Healthy Economies” campaign in South Africa, the epicentre of the world’s HIV/AIDs pandemic that is battling staggering rates of rape and other gender violence.
South African corporate executives, government officials and civil society activists met in Johannesburg on International Women’s Day to strengthen their partnership to on behalf of the country’s women and girls.
Despite prodigious financial and political efforts, spearheaded by former President Nelson Mandela, South Africa is still confronted with daunting HIV/AIDs statistics and widespread violence against women.
Kereng Masupu of the South African National AIDS Council told the meeting that AIDS remained the main cause of death among women of reproductive age, between 15 and 49.
The prevalence of the disease in women in that age group had risen, from 15.1 percent in 2005 to 17.4 percent in 2008, although greatly improved testing at health centres nationwide might also explain the jump in numbers.
By contrast, the prevalence rate of men in South Africa aged 15 and above was about 10 percent, Masupu said.
The Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is campaigning to encourage big business to invest in women’s and girls’ health as a step to build their place in society and the economy.
Speakers on Tuesday raised a host of issues confronting South Africa’s young women including teenage pregnancies, high drop-out rates from school and the growth in sexual relationships between girls and older, wealthier men - itself a key factor in the spread of HIV/AIDs.
Dawn Jones of Media in Education Trust, a non-governmental organisation, said there were positive reactions to one project where girls were receiving up to 800 rands ($110) a year in return for staying in school, achieving academic and extra-mural progress and taking voluntary HIV/AIDs tests.
Experts say that girls who stay in school longer start their sexual activity later.
International Women’s Day led many South African organisations to soul-search about the stubbornly high level of abuse of women despite their constitutional guarantees of equality.
Media Monitoring Africa, for example, said that women’s issues were falling off the priority news agenda while the killing of 333 rhinos by poachers in 2010 had grabbed headlines.
“Over that same time period, 197,000 cases of crimes against women were reported to the South African Police Service, including murder, attempted murder, common assault, sexual offences and assault to cause grievous bodily harm,” the watchdog said in a statement.
Criminologists believe that only a small minority of non-fatal sexual assaults are reported to police. Some women’s groups say the true figures are five to 10 times the official ones.