One of the main challenges which we are facing across Africa today is the imperative to empower its largest ever young population and to provide them with opportunities to realise their full potential.
This calls for crucial and sustainable investments into young people’s needs – their healthcare, their education – and of course, ensuring that they have access to modern contraception to allow them to take charge of their own futures, and also help to stabilise the fertility rate. All of this will contribute to the realization of the African Union Agenda 2063.
Economic progress within the African continent as a whole has the potential to evoke a truly profound positive impact upon our collective achievement of the SDGs. For some this is direct: more economic prosperity would mean better employment opportunities and increased financial stability on an individual level.
It also implies, however, an increased spending into crucial social needs such as healthcare, education and sustainable agriculture which will not only have a knock-on effect upon the physical health and education level of citizens but open up a whole new world of possibility for them.
Once the basic human rights of health and education are met, social progress accelerates dramatically, and this is what we hope to see as African economies continue to develop.
Overall, Cameroon has many challenges when it comes to reproductive health and gender equality. That being said, we are making progress when it comes to spreading awareness of these flaws with the end goal to tackle these issues.
Various laws demonstrate systematic sexism, for instance adultery committed by a woman is criminalised but is only considered punishable when committed by a man if it is “habitual” or takes place in the matrimonial home.
Furthermore, abortion is criminalized, except if the mother’s life is in danger or if pregnancy is the result of rape. And rape is not recognised when committed within a marriage.
An issue which is badly impacting on the health of our young people is drugs. One particular opioid, called tramadol, is resulting is great suffering and ruined lives. Tackling this crisis is complex and requires a coordinated response from many actors, including parliamentarians.
Over the past few years, Cameroon has been grappling with the influx of over a hundred thousand refugees from several neighbouring countries. Although their presence regrettably provoked tensions with the local population, we must strive to look past the divisions created in our society and see each other as one and the same; as equals.
We should all take responsibility over the wellbeing of our neighbours and work together to make more inclusive, stable and healthy societies for all. This absolutely includes paying attention to the health and wellbeing of migrants and refugees, who are often particularly vulnerable.
In 2017, a $310 million humanitarian response plan, backed by the United Nations, was launched to provide life-saving assistance to 1.2 million people in Cameroon’s northern and eastern regions.
Our role as parliamentarians is very important. The voice we have gives us an unmatched responsibility to spread awareness on these vital issues within our political parties, our parliamentary groups and as well as our constituencies and regions.
We must fiercely and persistently encourage our governments to act, as well as to invite our co-citizens to engage with us.
Parliamentarians must lead the conversations on maternal and infant mortality rates, abortion rates and whether to legalise it, early marriages, with good health and wellbeing of citizens at the core of our intentions.
I want us all to unite, sign resolutions and laws and share best practices and ideas amongst our countries, because we are the voice of the voiceless.
Marie Rose Nguini Effa is a Member of Parliament (MP), President of the African Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (FPA), Member of National Assembly of Cameroon & Member of the Pan-African Parliament. She is also a delegate to the International Parliamentarians’ Conference in Ottawa next week.