The 17th General Assembly of the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) meeting was held in in Kigali, Rwanda from 14th-18th July 2016 alongside the 27th African Union (AU) Summit in Kigali. The theme is "Advancing Sustainable Partnerships to end pediatric AIDS and improve Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights" Plan International Sierra Leone and Save the Children were invited by the First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Her Excellency (H.E) Mrs. Sia Nyama Koroma to join her, as delegates and technical support, to attend the 17th General Assembly.
The Plan International African Union Liaison & Pan Africa Program Office team was also present in the meetings in Kigali. The First Ladies, including H.E Sia Nyama Koroma were present in the events from the 16th to 18th July and Technical meetings were also organised by First Ladies' Technical Advisors, at the Senate/ Parliament in Kigali from the 14th to 15th July 2016. Plan International and UNAIDS were invited to some of the sessions held by the Technical advisors. On the 17th and 18th July, the First Ladies discussed on the issues of ending HIV infections among adolescents, comprehensive sexuality and reproductive health education, access to youth friendly services, ending child marriage and progress made in recent years to improve adolescent and youth health. Plan International also organised a high level advocacy event on girls' education and empowerment using the HE NAMED ME LALA movie/documentary. THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF OAFLA -18TH JULY 2016 In her welcoming remarks during the General Assembly(open sessions) on 18th July , the First Lady of the Republic of Rwanda, H.E. Mrs. Jeannette Kagame, welcomed all First Ladies to Rwanda. She underscored the importance of Africa to rise up against all odds, "indeed what we have managed to do by rising up again is to us a symbol and testament to what Africans can accomplish and overcome when we foster the will to work together and walk the same path towards a future of our making... Treat every child as your own- an African traditional practice that she urged everyone to develop . H.E. Margaret Gakuo Kenyatta, First Lady of the Republic of Kenya, chaired the Assembly of OAFLA, on behalf of the Chairperson, First Lady of Ghana, H.E. Dr. Nana Lordina Mahama. In her opening remarks, H.E Margaret Kenyatta outlined some of the activities undertaken by OAFLA since the last convention in January 2016. She also stated "Today OAFLA celebrates the African Union theme African year of human rights with particular focus on the rights of women. Past success and achievements would not have been possible without the support of the long lasting partnerships that we have developed". H.E. Dr. Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko ( a Sierra Leonean), Commissioner for Social Affairs of the AUC stated that "...ending pediatric AIDS by 2030 is a prerequisite for achieving all the seven aspirations of Agenda 2063". He noted that "ending AIDS will be a shared triumph for many SDGs". The Commissioner underlined that these include but are not limited to SDG 1 on ending poverty; SDG 3 on good health and well-being; SDG 5 on gender equality and women's empowerment; SDG 8 on economic growth; SDG 10 on reduced inequalities; SDG 16 on just, peaceful and inclusive societies and SDG 17 on global partnerships are all pertinent instrument geared towards harnessing the health status of girls and women within and beyond the continent. Three panel of discussions were held by the First Ladies and these included Panel 1: "All in to end adolescent AIDS" the fight against aids and paediatric treatment. Panel 2: Gender and culture sensitive comprehensive sexuality and reproductive health education and access to youth friendly services, and Panel 3: Ending child marriage and ensuring girls rights. H.E Sia Nyama Koroma in her own speech on ending Child marriage, mentioned the international and local legal instruments which condemn and criminalise child marriage in Africa(African charter on rights and welfare of the child, the Maputo Protocol of the African charter on human and people's rights, the UN convention on the rights of the child). She noted though that the implementation of these laws have been bleak. "Laws in Africa on the stated issue are rarely enforced because the practice of marrying young children is upheld by tradition, religion and or social norms". She stated that in Sierra Leone however, Government launched the National strategy on prevention of teenage pregnancy and that as a result, traditional leaders signed MOUs to end early and forced marriage in Sierra Leone. She also stated that "...50% 18-49 year olds have been married before 15 years...the most deprived and marginalised girls are at high risk of child marriage with consequences like halted education, loss of economic opportunities, violence and abuse, teenage pregnancy, complications during and after child birth...teenage pregnancy being a major consequence of child marriage and 40% of maternal deaths due to teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone". While proudly acknowledging the strides taken by Tanzania and the Gambia in curbing child marriage, Mrs. Koroma informed the Assembly that Sierra Leone has also increased the number of paramount chiefs signing the MOU to end child marriage, supports the launch of the Ending Forced Child Marriage Campaign (EFCM) in Sierra Leone and supports the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children's Affairs on the harmonization of the age of consent. On moving forward with the campaign and what First Ladies can do, Mrs. Koroma voiced the following: • strengthen the implementation of the laws against Child marriage. • develop stronger communication amongst stakeholders. • empower girls by enhancing their social assets and providing safe spaces for girls to discuss future options. • more focus and leadership from sub regional groupings in order to ensure good practices, linking local policies and traditional practices to eradicate child marriage. • increase understanding of the underlying drivers of child, early and forced marriage in west africa, indicating its consequences and the cost of inaction. A girl from from Kenya shared her HIV experience. "I stand before you today to talk about my HIV status, not to be pitied but to impact hope in a life of an adolescent girl somewhere in our African continent and the world" the voice of Ms. Ouma echoing with encouragement that by the year 2030 Africa will end AIDS. Ms. Ouma appealed to all parents who have children living with HIV to disclose to them their status at an opportune time to enable the child to fully understand their health better. She further request to OAFLA to sponsor more adolescents to the forum, allowing them to be informed and participate effectively. "No single entity, no single intervention can end HIV/AIDS we must work together," she concluded . Finally, the First Ladies of Africa through OAFLA called upon the African governments and national institutions to ensure ratification, domestication and reporting on the implementation of legal instruments to end child marriage, and promote girls and women's rights. They also called on Governments to increase investment in youth development; reduce mortality rate from cervical cancer; and called upon the global community to support the Global fund replenishment to particularly end AIDS, TB, Malaria by 2030 and build resilient and sustainable health systems. They have pledged to advocate support for the Global Fund's campaign to mobilize USD.13 billion for replenishment and to advocate for increased domestic financing for sustainable national health programs. FIRST LADIES TECHNICAL ADVISORS' MEETINGS On the 15th July, in the Technical meetings, the Plan International African Union Liaison & Pan Africa Program Office proposed that an MOU be signed with OAFLA and encouraged agreements at Country level to provide a platform for the organisation (Plan) to work more closely with First ladies in the fight for girls rights. This recommendation was adopted on the 17th July during the sessions with the First Ladies. UNAIDS also presented a report of their work to the Technical team of OAFLA. ADVOCACY MOMENT- PLAN INTERNATIONAL MALALA MOVIE SCREENING FOR FIRST LADIES OF AFRICA On the 16th July, the Plan International African Union Liaison & Pan Africa Program Office in collaboration with the First Lady of Rwanda, the Malala Fund, and other partners organised a grand Advocacy dinner and Film/documentary screening ( He named me Malala) at the prestigious Hotel Serena in Kigali. Many dignitaries from Rwanda and all over Africa attended the dinner and film screening and they included the African First Ladies and their Technical Experts, Girls Rights Advocates, United Nations representatives, Plan International Rwanda Country Director and Plan staff from the Region of East and Southern Africa (RESA). HE Mrs, Sia Nyama Koroma also attended the film screening. Speakers included Her Excellency Mrs. Kenyatta of Kenya acted as chairperson for the Organization of African First Ladies against AIDS (OAFLA) in the absence of Her Excellency Mrs. Mahama of Ghana. The aim of the Malala film screening was to inspire the First Ladies to take action on behalf of girls and ensure the message of Malala on girls' education goes everywhere. The Malala initiative is a 12 month advocacy campaign that accompanies the documentary, in order to advance the movement of empowering girls through education. The Malala Fund aims to raise mass awareness, funding and policy change for girls. After the movie was screened, discussions were held and comments made. "It is important to promote completion of schooling, quality education and performance of girls in schools", Plan International Rwanda Country Director said. A Rwandan teenage girl, the head of UN Women in Rwanda, the Director of the Plan AU Liaison and Pan Africa Office, all made salient contributions which pointed to the importance of more investment in girls' education and overcoming the challenge of low school completion rate of girls. Giving her view on the movie and the campaign, H.E Mrs. Sia Nyama Koroma noted the importance of parental role in shaping and making a better future for children as a whole. She also maintained that more attention must be paid to access to primary education for girls as a first step. Going forward, Sierra Leone, according Mrs. Koroma is already in preparation to screen the movie and strengthen the campaign in collaboration with Plan International Sierra Leone country office. Generally, statements from the movie screening night expressed 3 concrete steps champions must take for quality Girls Education: • Ensuring All African girls have access to 12 years of safe and quality education. • Remove barriers preventing girls from advancing to upper secondary school. • Encourage communities to address social norms and attitudes that increase inequalities between girls and boys. STATE BANQUET Whilst in Kigali attending both the 27th African Union Summit and the 17th Ordinary General Assembly of the Organization of African First Ladies against Aids, First Lady Mrs. Sia Nyama Koroma attended a state banquet hosted by President Paul Kagame and wife Janette Kagame of Rwanda on the 17th July. His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma and First Lady Sia Koroma represented Sierra Leone at the light –hearted state function which was geared towards show casing Rwandan culture and pride. Different dancers and musicians from across Africa exhibited their talent and called for a united Africa in their display. A stage dance by all the First Ladies of Africa climaxed the occasion. SOME RECOMMENDED FOLLOW –UP ACTIONS BY THE OFFICE OF THE FIRST LADY OF SIERRA LEONE • Organise a Regional End Child Marriage Summit in Sierra Leone • Organise screening of the Malala Movie for advocacy targeting donors, Government decision makers, key stakeholders and partners working on and supporting Girls Education • Lead the launch of the AU Campaign on Child marriage