Female members of parliament from Africa's 18 commonwealth countries are meeting in Ghana to discuss the impact of poverty on women's health, and how they can lead the fight against HIV/AIDS. Experts say African women are most vulnerable to the disease, which claims several lives every year.
About 200 delegates from national, provincial, and state parliaments joined women's rights activists in the two-day seminar that opened in Accra to discuss pressing issues involving women in Africa.
South African Lindiwe Maseko chairs the group Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians. She says poverty is the root cause of problems for women on the continent.
"The issue of older men going out with younger girls, for material issues that they will sleep with them without a condom and the poor girl does not have a say because she is expecting material gain," she said. "And, then they go back to their wife at home who is very innocent, and the poor woman cannot begin to say, maybe we should start using a condom, because then she is vulnerable, in fact most of them are unemployed, they are uneducated, so they are insecure."
Maseko says it is important to discuss these issues and adopt strategies to begin to educate women.
"The discussion that we have here should also go to parliaments for discussion so that other recommendations can come up from different countries," she said. "And maybe also the country strategies can also take into consideration some of the deliberations, some of the recommendations that will come out of this seminar."
South Africa has come under criticism for its strategy towards the treatment of HIV/AIDS and its health minister, Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, has been criticized for questioning the effectiveness of anti-retroviral drug treatments and promoting beetroot, garlic and African potatoes as ways to fight AIDS.
Maseko said both traditional and western medicine need to be taken into consideration when addressing the disease.
"The issue of African medicine, how to retrain African traditional healers to test some of these, because you find that there are cases where people believe that 'I took traditional medicine and I am now testing negative,' so how do you bring that in? For instance, I know our minister speaks a lot about the garlic and lemon, there people who come out to say, 'I took this and it is boosting my immune system', so it is how it is communicated," she said.
Addressing the delegates, Ghana's first lady Theresa Kufuor said of the 7.3 million women living with HIV/AIDS, nearly two-thirds are found in Sub-Saharan Africa.
She says, the disease thrives on ignorance, adding that it is regrettable the majority of the population still has low knowledge of HIV/AIDs.
"'Women make the most reliable teachers, that is why women must take up the challenge of educating all of us," the first lady said.