PROPOSED LAW

Renewed hope for sexual and reproductive health and rights in East Africa

Time is up for policy makers to stop putting the health and lives of women and girls at risk based on implicit biases and subjective opinions

In Summary

The Bill aims to protect and facilitate the fulfilment of the life-course sexual and reproductive health and rights of all people

However, the share of girls dying due to pregnancy-related complications rose last year
However, the share of girls dying due to pregnancy-related complications rose last year
Esther Aoko is a  Sexual and Reproductive Health Advocate

As sexual and reproductive health and rights continue to be sidelined the world over, detrimental health outcomes like alarming rates of teenage pregnancies and unsafe abortions continue to be reported in Kenya.

The Ministry of Health recently reported over 45,700 cases of teenage pregnancies in January and February of this year alone. Additionally, over 26,000 women and girls in Kenya die every year from unsafe abortion.

This takes away our power as citizens to dream and work towards achieving our dreams.

Nonetheless, there is hope for us in East Africa including here in Kenya through the enactment of the East African Community Sexual and Reproductive Health Bill that is on the floor of the East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA).

This proposed law seeks to give new meaning to bodily autonomy and integrity. It will among other things, facilitate efforts to prioritize sexual and reproductive health information and services for all persons.

The Ministry of Health has normalized the belief that sexual and reproductive health is a separate entity from general health and that is where the issue starts from.

This is because, due to our cultural and social norms and beliefs, access to sexual and reproductive health information and services remains to be highly frowned up on and is seen as a taboo.

When we do not have sexual and reproductive health at the top of our minds or at least somewhere in our minds when we are discussing health matters, then we are intentionally passing on the idea that it is not as important.

This is why the EAC SRH Bill emphasizes on the importance of partner states integrating sexual and reproductive health information and services as part of the universal health coverage of each partner state.

The Bill aims to protect and facilitate the fulfilment of the life-course sexual and reproductive health and rights of all people in the community. If passed, partner states will not only be able to realize positive reproductive health outcomes but will also build a community where people’s health are catered for holistically.  

According to UNFPA the maternal mortality ratio in Kenya, which is the number of women dying of pregnancy-related causes, stands at 488 deaths per 100,000 live births. This ranks Kenya among the 10 most dangerous countries for a woman to give birth in the world.

This is caused by limited use of skilled care, inadequate skills among health care providers and low health facility coverage.

As a partner state, mothers and children in Kenya will benefit from the EAC SRH Bill as it aims to facilitate and promote the prevention of new-born, child mortality, maternal mortality and morbidity from preventable causes.

Additionally, comprehensive sexually education (CSE) remains disputed in the East African Community as only myths and misconceptions about what it is are driven by the opposition which include the Catholic church and western funded organizations.

These groups hiding under the guise of Christianity advance the false narrative that CSE promotes promiscuity and irresponsible behavior.

The opposite is however true. Consequently, the importance of the EAC SRH Bill cannot be gainsaid as it seeks to promote and provide for correct information to all adolescents and young people in accordance with their evolving capacities.

Moreover, the theme of this year’s Day of the African Child was to eliminate harmful practices. This was informed by the realization of the extent of harm that these harmful practices have on children.

They not only inflict physical pain on them but also have adverse effects on their psychosocial health and well-being. Additionally, these practices strip them of their human dignity and their right to live their lives free from all forms of harm.

It is to this regard that the bill aims to put up measures that will prohibit and facilitate the elimination of harmful practices from the Community.

Time is up for policy makers to stop putting the health and lives of women and girls at risk based on implicit biases and subjective opinions.  All the harm and hurt that continues to be caused by the lack of comprehensive legal and policy frameworks are preventable and must be put to an end.  

As the public participation on the Bill starts on June 26, it is important that citizens of the community engage with the Bill and consider the wide range of benefits it seeks to bring for women and girls; men and boys across all seven member states.

Additionally, the East Africa Legislative Assembly members must also consider these as they thereafter go to vote on the proposed law.

Imagine a world where your sexual and reproductive health matters and you have full control of what happens to your body. This is a world that the EAC SRH Bill aims to create for us all.

Esther Aoko is a  Sexual and Reproductive Health Advocate

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star