Remarks by Ambassador Johnson 2018 International Women’s Day Reception
Thank you for joining me this evening to celebrate International Women’s Day, recognized around the world on March 8. March also is Women’s History Month in the United States, so I’m keeping the celebration going.
International Women’s Day first was recognized in 1911 as a strategy to promote equal rights. More than 100 years later, we pause and celebrate the achievements women have made in all areas of human endeavor: political, economic, and social. We have come a long way.
However, this day remains relevant as we continue to press for progress in gender equality. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated, “Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.”
In fact, this year’s theme is #PressforProgress. It reminds us that if we want to see change, we have to work actively to make it happen. Those among us tonight are leaders, influencers, role-models, and opinion-makers in Namibia. I look forward to talking with you this evening to seek your views on how we can work together to press for progress — not just on a day of recognition, but every day.
In my first month in Namibia, I have been reading, learning, and listening to stories that detail the incredible progress this country has made since Independence. Namibia boasts an impressive equity framework. Family law reforms and the labor law are two excellent examples of gender equality in legislation. And Namibia’s 41% female representation in Parliament is a remarkable achievement – and something that I hope to see one day in my own country.
Another positive sign is the entry of Namibia’s children into the education system. While it sadly remains true that schools do not retain girls at the same rate as boys, the critical starting point is there: in Grade 1, boys and girls are making it to school in equal numbers.
I also have learned about some of the challenges women face in Namibia, including the high incidence of gender-based violence and economic disparities. These are issues we also face in America. Because countries experience similar challenges with gender equality, we are able to work from common ground in coming together to ask one another – “How we can help address these problems? What can we do to change these realities?”
One gender-based violence outreach campaign in Namibia that caught my attention is by LifeLine/ChildLine: “it is not my story, it is our story.” Those words were chosen well. Gender-based violence is not only the story of individuals. It is the story of communities. And it is the story of countries, including my own.
Everyone in this room I’m sure has more than one story. The statistics are illuminating – in Namibia, America, and internationally, one in three women have been affected by gender-based violence. This is something we must work together to change. I’m pleased the U.S. Government has supported LifeLine/ChildLine to continue its media campaign, as well as efforts by Project Hope and the Legal Assistance Centre to prevent GBV and support victims of violence.
Central to the gender-based response is health, particularly HIV status. The evidence is very clear on linkages between gender-based violence and HIV. Namibia has made significant strides in addressing the HIV epidemic. As we offer help to improve the lives of those infected with HIV, we also must consider long-term health challenges. A woman living with HIV, for example, is five times more likely to develop cervical cancer, which is largely preventable, and easily identified through regular screenings.
Namibia is taking steps to screen women for cervical cancer, and I’m pleased that the U.S government, through PEPFAR, will provide support to link HIV-positive women to cervical cancer screening and treatment. Specifically, this year’s PEPFAR support to Namibia will include an additional two million U.S. dollars to provide cervical cancer screening and same day treatment of pre-cancerous lesions to all HIV positive women. With the Namibian government’s commitment, and our partnership through PEPFAR, I am confident that more women in Namibia will receive the services they need to remain cancer-free.
Change is needed in other areas as well. Globally, young women are up to 14 times more likely to be infected with HIV than young men. We are committed to changing this statistic. For that reason, I am especially excited that Namibia is now a DREAMS country. The goal of DREAMS is to help girls develop into Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe women.
DREAMS, funded through PEPFAR, addresses the structural drivers that increase girls’ HIV risk, including poverty, gender inequality, sexual violence, and a lack of education. DREAMS already is having an impact across Africa. In the first 10 DREAMS countries, two-thirds of the highest-HIV-burden communities achieved a 25 to 40 percent reduction in new HIV diagnoses among young women.
To close, in honor of this year’s International Women’s Day, and U.S. Women’s History Month, I am happy to welcome you here to celebrate the achievements made for and by women — and to look to a future of achievements yet to come.
I look forward to speaking with you this evening, and on many occasions in the future, about how we can work together on these important issues and how the U.S. Embassy can be involved in the good work that many of you are doing for women and girls.