The Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, has called on the South African government to ensure that it upholds its commitment to women's rights as an important step in the battle against HIV and AIDS - writes Munyaradzi Makoni.
"This is especially so in our region, where gender inequality has been identified as one of the drivers of the pandemic, and wherever women have limited or no power to protect themselves against infection," said Archbishop Makgoba, in a statement after speaking at a seminar conducted by the Anglican AIDS and Healthcare Trust.
Archbishop Makgoba's comments came during a time of allegations that the South African government failed to promote full equality for women before the law during debate at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva that has run from 14 September to 2 October 2009.
Equality Now, a women's rights advocacy group that has researched laws discriminating against women for the past 15 years, says that over the past five years, international human rights organizations have advocated a special mechanism within the United Nations. That instrument would encourage their efforts to repeal laws that discriminate against women.
The debate's closing session had been expected to pass a resolution proposing the appointment of an independent expert on laws to protect women. The South African delegation to the Human Rights Commission, however, is reported to have attempted to block this proposal on 25 September, along with Egypt and Pakistan.
"By blocking the proposal for an independent expert, South Africa is not only letting down its own women but also the women of the world. It is a shame that the South African delegation is choosing to oppose a resolution that appears to finally have a chance of succeeding at the UN." said Faiza Jama Mohammed, a Kenya-based director for Equality Now, in a statement.
South Africa has one of the world's highest levels of sexual violence against women and children, with many rapists going unpunished because of low reporting and conviction rates. Reports said that South Africa asserted there is no need for a new mechanism to address discriminatory laws against women.
Meanwhile Archbishop Makgoba expressed gratitude to the British government for supporting his church's Aids and HIV-related work in southern Africa.
"Orphans and vulnerable children are being better cared for; more people are receiving
home-based care; more are testing – and getting the treatment they need; others are earning some cash income to supplement their diet, assist with school fees, and meet the basic needs of life," said Makgoba.
Britain funds the Siyakha project, which means "We are building". It centres on sharing best practices around HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, income generation and sustainability. The programme complements other government-led interventions to reduce poverty in the country. The programme has run since 2006.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]