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GRAND COMMITMENT

Tlotlo Mbazo

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Botswana has identified four commitments – to strengthen access to family planning; the reduction of maternal deaths; reduction of Gender Based Violence as well as provision of quality, timely and disaggregated data – as game changers in the implementation of the commitments made towards achieving the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) agenda.

The country delegation joined others comprised of world leaders, representatives of non-governmental organizations, young people, business leaders and community groups on Tuesday to unveil their commitments to end preventable maternal death, meet all women’s demands for family planning, and stop violence against women and girls by 2030.

The commitments are being made during the three-day Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, taking place 25 years after the landmark ICPD, in Cairo, where 179 governments adopted an action plan for women’s empowerment and sexual and reproductive health for all.

Dr Richard Matlhare, Head of the Botswana Delegation in Nairobi, Kenya and Coordinator of the National Aids and Health Promotion Agency (NAHPA) said on Tuesday that Botswana’s intention is to reduce maternal deaths from 143.2 in 100 000 births to less than 70 in 100 000 births through capacity building and allocation of financial and human resources towards maternal health by 2030.
He added that the country will ensure that information and services, quality, affordable and safe modern contraceptives at all service points through capacity building of health care workers on integration of family planning services from 350 to 1000 by 2030.

“I can assure you that we will rally behind Duty Bearers of these commitments to ensure that they are realized, through defined and specific actions that will address the unfinished business of the ICPD,” Dr Matlhare said, adding that government will strengthen partnerships with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and other development partners as well as non-state actors to implement the ICPD plan of action.
Youth Advocate, also a University of Botswana student, Michelle Simon 18, told delegates at the Summit that in contributing to the realization of the ICPD, the young people of Botswana commit to accessing information to help them make informed decisions, this through accessing youth-friendly health services for young people across the country. The youth of Botswana also commit to engaging in policy and programmatic dialogues to ensure that their voices are included.
Commitments by non-governmental organisations of Botswana will be presented by CEO of Botswana Gender Based Violence Prevention and support Centre, Lorato Moalusi later this week.
UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem said at the Summit that since the Cairo ICPD, “we have put women and girls at the center of global development,” adding that this has paid off time and again.
She admitted though that ICPD vision is still far from reality and that the journey that began 25 years ago in Cairo is far from over. “It’s now time to finish that unfinished business,” she said.
Since the ICPD, gains have been made in strengthening maternal health care and expanding access to quality contraceptive information and services. But there are still many who have not benefited from these gains, with more than 800 women dying during pregnancy and childbirth every day and 232 million women wanting to prevent pregnancy but not using a modern contraceptive.
The summit aims to tackle these problems as well as put a stop to gender-based violence, child marriage and female genital mutilation.
“The bold, rights-based vision of the ICPD – that development must put people first, that attention must be paid to strengthening equal access to health, education, and human dignity for all persons – anticipated the bold, ambitious vision of the 2030 Agenda,” said United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. “As critical accelerators for the Sustainable Development Goals, the outcomes of ICPD must be carried forward. The success of the global agenda for sustainable development, our common framework for people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership, depends on it.”
Denmark Minister for Development Cooperation, Rasmus Prehn confirmed that Denmark will continue to work with partners to ensure the fulfillment of the agenda. “If we want to reach the 2030 agenda, we must fulfill the promise of Cairo.”
The Summit is hosted by the governments of Denmark and Kenya and UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. Its intention is mobilizing the political will and securing the financial commitments urgently needed to make sexual and reproductive health a reality for everyone, everywhere.

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BACK ON TRACK

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BR train 0501/BD 540 would not have derailed on 10 December 2019 had necessary precautions been taken, Botswana Railways (BR) staff members told the ongoing commission of inquiry in Mahalapye.

They blame the fatal accident in which two BR employees were killed on a raft of lapses, indecisions and negligence on the part of BR management. BR Senior Traffic Controller Simon Matenje revealed that there is a WhatsApp group that discusses everything concerning the running of BR trains. He said meteorological services had posted a memo warning that there would be floods on 4th December and shared it on the WhatsApp group. “The contents of the memo and their implications were discussed,” said Matenje who revealed that the group comprises most of the senior personnel in the BR hierarchy.

He lamented that although read and discussed the contents of the memo were “not given due attention.” Above that, on 9th and 10th December many BR staff members using the south bound and north bound trains warned relevant authorities about the possibility of floods, said Matenje. He believes there was negligence of duty on the part of management because everybody was aware of the floods at Moreomabele and Palla Road. “The relevant office should have directed stoppage of the trains or the adoption of an appropriate speed limit. “The best that management did was to give warnings about the floods but fell short of prescribing a solution,” he said. Matenje, who was on leave, said that he communicated his concerns about the reports of flooding and possible solutions to no avail.

When asked who exactly had the authority to do that, Matenje explained that it was the Operation’s Manager. Matenje also decried the lapses in the organisation’s system. He said motor trollies are helpful when inspecting the railway line. “However, they have not featured for a long time,” said Matenje who feels that regular inspection of the rail is a very critical part of safety. He said BR has not held any safety workshops in a long time. Mompoloki Rutherford, a train driver also appearing before the commission conceded that trollies had not been used on the BR lines for a long time. He said some senior managers use the train to inspect the line instead of trollies. “There are only two seats in the cabin but, contrary to safety rules, sometimes they just join us in the cabin which is a breach of the safety rules,” said Rutherford. Dikabelo Nawa, a retired train driver noted that BR workers were a sad lot because of pressure always exerted on them by management.

“Drivers work under pressure. The line between Mafikeng and Plumtree is old and very bad but we were always pushed by management to arrive on time. “There is just too much pressure. I once lost time and that put me into a big problem.” He said. He is also unhappy with the undergrowth and hanging branches next to the line because they obstruct the view of the crew. He appealed to the panel to recommend the introduction of a training centre for BR staff.

Peter Mokokwe, a recently retired train driver also complained that the rail road is never inspected. In addition to that, he told the commission that, he witnessed water around Palla Road on 9th December at the same place where the derailment later took place. Mokokwe, who himself did not alert control room about the water because he had heard through radio communication that his colleagues had reported the situation to control room, is also of the view that the disaster could have been averted had the 501 crew been alerted of the water situation.

On the other hand, a train controller named Moses Sethomo says he never got the communique warning the drivers about the impending floods. “There was a clear breakdown of communication,” said Sethomo who revealed that very often, even BR assets are wrongly used. “For example, sometimes freight locomotives instead of passenger train locomotives are used to haul the passenger train and this is a safety concern,” he noted. The hearings are continuing this week. The rail services that were suspended have since been resumed.

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Youth lament slow pace towards ICPD commitments

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Young people representing Botswana at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) in Nairobi, Kenya last week have expressed disappointment at the slow pace at which governments are moving towards achieving ICPD25 ideals.

Trevor Oahile, a youth advocate and student at the University of Botswana participated at the Nairobi Summit to highlight on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of men and boys.
Oahile hosts a radio show sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Don’t Get It Twisted on Yarona FM. The show deals with issues that affect boys and men. Oahile participated in a panel discussion at the Summit on the involvement of men and boys in accelerating the ICPD promise.

He is of the view that countries needs to work together to end violence that is perpetuated by harmful gender norms that are antagonistic to progress towards the ideals of the ICPD agenda. “Botswana government and private sector are still challenged to invest a lot of money into implementing their commitments,” Oahile said, adding that Comprehensive Sexual Education on the other hand has to be rolled out to every school in the country.

“We also acknowledge that it is important to avoid stereotypes that impact decisions that people make. Men and boys often avoid certain services because they are known to be for girls and women,” Oahile said. Millicent Sethaile was at the Summit as a youth ambassador from an organisation called Her Voice, which funds and offers grants to smaller organisations that advocate for SRHR in communities. In her view the summit was significant because it was an opportunity for countries including Botswana to make commitments to fulfill the unfinished business of the ICPD made 25 years ago.

“What struck me the most is that I realised that Botswana has a long way to go to achieve the commitments she set for herself.”Sethaile also observed that the four commitments including to strengthen access to family planning, the reduction of maternal deaths, reduction of Gender Based Violence, provision of quality, timely and disaggregated data are activities that were already in the pipeline and have been discussed before. “I believe we now have to come up with actionable items that we can work on so that we can effectively deal with current challenges.”
For 18 year old University student Michelle Simon, the Nairobi Summit was a reality check, an opportunity to reflect and map the way forward.

“I realised that there are so many challenges, especially in Africa concerning SRHR,” Simon said. She also realised that Botswana has a lot of catching up to do to implement the commitments of the ICPD. “I also realised that issues including youth in power were left out.” Botho Mahlunge on the other hand comes back from the Summit with a conclusion that there are a lot of predicaments that young people find themseles in across the African continent including GBV and teenage pregnancy.

Programmes need to be intensified to ensure implementation. Mahlunge is also of the view that there is minimum youth engagement on issues that affet them the most. “Young people are tired of always convening about the same issues. It’s time to see the outcomes of Summits and Conferences,” Mahlunge said. She advised the youth to also be willing to engage when the oppotunity avails itself and to take up programmes that have been set to help them. Mahlunge said that failure to educate our young people on sexuality “is the reason so many girls are getting pregnant and infected with HIV.”

She said the continued exclusion of young people in rural areas from sexual and reproductive health and rights discussion is also to blame for the prevailing state of affairs. “Young people in rural areas are completely vulnerable. They are so far removed from the little information and services available to young people in urban areas,” Mahlunge observed.

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