(Texte disponible uniquement en anglais.)
Meeting with the UN Country Team/Strategic Policy Group
Monrovia, 20 October 2010
Remarks by HRH Princess Mathilde of Belgium
First of all I thank the Special Representative of the Secretary General Mrs Loj for her support during our joint UNICEF/UNAIDS mission.
I would also like to thank President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the Government of Liberia for the way they received our mission.
Our delegation has been received at the highest level; by the President, the Vice-President, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and several other Ministers on specific issues such as education, health, gender, planning,....
I will always have fond memories of my visit to Liberia - a special and unique country, facing many challenges.
I would like to share with you some thoughts about my experiences during the past three days of my visit; about the key issues I saw concerning children, women and HIV/Aids.
1. This is my third mission (Tanzania, Senegal) as a Special Representative of Unicef/Unaids for "children and HIV/Aids". And I must admit I learned "again" a lot about this terrible pandemic and its devastating impact on children and women, confronted by many years of conflict situations.
2. Some of the highlights of my mission are:
- The launch of the Agenda for Accelerating Country Specific Actions for Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV" ; now it is up to the Government of Liberia, UNAIDS and development partners to make this agenda a reality to help strengthen the gender focus of the HIV response in Liberia.
- Talking to the National Aids Commission as well as health workers at JFK Hospital and the Bomi Government Hospital was truly motivating; they carry out special work every day, for the families and children in Liberia.
- The Cash Transfer Scheme, a program that aims to reach the 50.000 extremely poor and vulnerable families in the country, who otherwise would fall through the gaps of poverty reduction interventions.
- The launch of "Facts for Life", containing a treasure of life-saving information in simple language.
- This morning, our meeting with civil society organisations: LIWEN members and Light Association: they are doing a tremendously important job.
- And many other initiatives....such as my visit to the SDA Revelation High School ...
3. I have been deeply touched by the many conversations I have had with children, especially the vulnerable ones (victims of violence; orphaned by Aids).
I have been touched by the hardship of their young lives on the one hand, and by their courage and strong determination to survive on the other hand; but above all I have been touched by their hope for a better future.
But they can not do it on their own. We have to help them.
Every child is important and deserves our full attention.
More than ever I am committed to create awareness and to support the efforts that the vulnerable children themselves are making.
During our visits of community-based projects I noticed that with the help of their family and their community, these children have a future. It is so important to get an education and to go to school every day. Education is the key to everything.
4. I was also struck by the fact that young people are not well informed of the dangers that HIV/Aids represent.
This lack of information together with the continuing stigma and taboo are real barriers to an efficient approach.
5. Furthermore I noticed that the "feminisation" of Aids is a real issue. Young women in particular are vulnerable. My many contacts with girls and young women were most revealing. Their stories are heartbreaking; often victims of sexual violence, they try to get their lives back together. Young pregnant women and young mothers need special attention.
But men and boys should be actively involved as well. They also have an important responsibility and should show more respect for girls and women. They are part of the solution.
And finally concerning "EDUCATION" : the key issue for me
6. Once again let me stress the importance of education.
Boys and girls should be taught to show respect for one another. At school, they should learn the necessary tools to shape their future, a future without violence.
My conclusion is as follows:
I am more convinced than ever that the voice of the most vulnerable children and young people is needed in a comprehensive approach (prevention, treatment, care) to fight HIV/Aids; and that we should continue to draw attention to the very difficult situations in which women and vulnerable children often live.
I thank UNICEF and UNAIDS for their efforts in this respect.
Certainly, I do not want to forget to mention the efficient support of UNMIL which enabled us to follow our program as planned.