BWIRE: Sexual Reproductive Health Rights Under Scrutiny
I was reading about a couple in Kakamega who was shocked when he learnt that his wife was pregnant even as he had undergone vasectomy several years ago.
Comments then followed, others saying “it was because the procedure had not been successful”, “men ought to tell their partners when going for vasectomy” to extreme ones like “a wife belongs to the community not husband.”
While this was a case involving adults, cases of increasing number of youth and adolescents, who because of lack of access to reproductive services including contraceptives and sex education or cultural practices are ending up in teenage pregnancy, early marriages, and sexualgender-based violence, deliberate spreading of HIV/AIDS, unsafe abortions, female genital mutilation and dropping out of education are deeply worrying.
Matters sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR) including the right to make individual decisions on such remain a challenge in our communities even as we have developed laws and policies that recognize and protect these rights.
Many challenges stand in the way of respecting these rights including limited resources, misplaced priorities, lack of political goodwill, cultural norms, beliefs and practices that fail to recognize the universality of these rights and their importance.
Even with the Kenya Constitution 2010 together with many other regional and global conventions that the country has signed committing to respecting sexual reproductive health rights has outlawed to the detriment of respect for the rights of our children and their empowerment.
Because of moral and cultural believes, many people continue experiencing the violation of their sexual and reproductive health rights, because many associate and perceive them to be strange and coming from outside the African continent.
In addition, there are laws and policies that provide for this including, the Children’s Act, the Kenya Health Policy 2012–2030, the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy, the Kenya National School Health Policy, the National Education, the National School Re-Entry Guidelines, and the National Action Plan on Ending Teenage Pregnancy.
Kenya and other countries within the region have ratified several SRHR commitments since the recognition of SRHR as a human right at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and as an explicit target of SDGs.
Some global and regional SRHR commitments include but are not limited to Generation Equality Forum (GEF), ICPD25, African Union Agenda 2063, Maputo Plan of Action, and Campaign on Accelerated Reduction on Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA), the Eastern and Southern Africa Ministerial Commitment on sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people among others.
As efforts to push for the realization of these rights scale up, the Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK) is bringing 6th Annual Scientific Conference on Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (ASRHR) jointly with the Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and FP 2030 to make a strong case for Kenya and the African region to provide comprehensive access to SRH information and services and stop the continued violation of SRH rights.
The youth and adolescents are seriously suffering because of these escalating violations and countries must scale up efforts, interventions, and resources to address this urgently. Access to safe and legal abortion information and services, access to comprehensive sexuality education by adolescents and young people, access to contraceptives are examples of reproductive rights that have come under contestation in the recent years.
Addressing social drivers of risk such as lack of age-appropriate Sexual Reproductive Health information and youth-friendly services, poverty, and gender inequity, investing in education and implementation of existing policies and guidelines, providing menstrual hygiene information and products to adolescent girls, and investing in empowerment programs targeting parents/guardians and teachers.
The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), about 179 countries adopted a Programme of Action, in which they agreed and concluded that policies on population policies must be aimed at empowering individuals, especially women, to make decisions about the size of their families, providing them with the information and resources to make such decisions, and enabling them to exercise their reproductive rights.
This marked the dawn of the recognition reproductive rights as human rights by states that should be reflected in national policies, laws, frameworks, and standards. States also agreed that regressive laws, policies, and practices that do not respect individuals’ autonomy and decision making must be eliminated.
In adopting the ICPD Programme of Action, states committed to take legal, policy, budgetary, and other measures to effectuate the principles and rights enshrined in the Programme of Action.
The Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK) notes that its worrying that a number of old held cultural norms and moral stands by some opinion leaders, are increasingly influencing government agencies and discouraging them from getting involved in SRHR decision making forums through weaponizing culture and religion, thus frustrating the implementation of SRHR commitments.
This, they note has led to eroding of SRHR laws and increased intimidation, harassment, and attacks on SRHR healthcare providers, advocates and persons seeking SRHR including key populations.
Victor Bwire works at the Media Council of Kenya as the Director for Media Training and Development and is an environmental journalism tutor and writer.