EAC Sexual and Reproductive Health Bill should be an opportunity for clerics and human rights defenders to collaborate
COMMENT | YVONNE MPAMBARA | The East African Community Sexual and Reproductive Health Bill 2021 has been at the center of recent discourses in the media and in different technical spheres on health, gender, human rights and the law.
Among other things, the Bill requires each EAC Member State to provide sexual and reproductive health services that are adequate, accessible and, where not free, affordable, in order to facilitate the attainment of the highest standard of health. high as possible by each person.
Article 127 of the treaty further obliges state parties to provide an enabling environment for the private sector and civil society to take full advantage of the community.
As is the requirement of good governance of a free and democratic state, the enactment of laws and other regulatory frameworks must be participatory. The process of legislation in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) is provided for in its Rules of Procedure.
The Procedure (Rules) state that a member of the Assembly may present a motion to introduce a bill, following an authorization to do so. A bill that has been read for the first time remains referred to the competent committee without discussion.
The committee to which the bill is referred must present its report to the House within ninety days, after which the bill is read a second time.
The report, which is presented for second reading, is based on the comments of the main stakeholders collected through the convening of public hearings and the submission of memoranda on the content of the bill. The most recent hearing was a public hearing convened at the Common Wealth Resort Munyonyo in Kampala on June 29, 2022.
The session was chaired by the Chairman of the General Affairs Committee, Hon. Dennis Namara. Participants included policy makers, civil society organizations, local organizers, media, lawmakers and religious groups (traditional and otherwise).
It is therefore shocking that following this public hearing, a group of religious people convened a public hearing at the Triangle Hotel on August 8, 2022. This hearing was exclusive of any other stakeholders who they believe , was opposed to their position. On the bill. They have taken the mistaken view that the bill is a Trojan horse for all non-African and culturally unacceptable issues.
In fact, for them, it does not matter what the bill contains, and what is the state of health and well-being of the people of East Africa in the field of reproductive health. The bill must be rejected. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
This bill should have at least created an opportunity for religious groups to sit at the same table with other stakeholders, especially civil society organizations, to address the failing state of sexual health. and reproduction in the region.
Each year, 6.3 million women in East Africa do not give birth in a health facility; 3.1 million do not receive the care they need following a major obstetric complication; while 2.4 million have newborns who do not receive the necessary care in the event of complications (data from the African Population and Health Research Center – APHRC).
The bill also seeks to protect men’s rights, including providing screening and treatment for disorders of the male reproductive system, including infertility, prostate cancer and other reproductive complications.
The reproductive health of people with disabilities is also a priority in the bill. The bill requires each EAC state to provide appropriate facilities, infrastructure and information that safeguards the needs of persons with disabilities.
In particular, the bill also provides that adolescents who become pregnant, before completing their studies, have the possibility, in appropriate structures, during pregnancy and within a reasonable time after childbirth, to continue their studies.
In East Africa, adolescents have a higher unmet need for contraception than all women aged 15-49 (APHRC).
Unsafe abortion remains one of the leading causes of maternal death in Africa, with the highest number of abortion-related deaths in the world occurring in Africa.
Estimates indicate that 2.2 million unintended pregnancies and 25% (2.5 million) unsafe abortions occur each year in sub-Saharan Africa among adolescent girls.
Unsurprisingly, 14% of all pregnancies in East Africa end in abortion; 97% of abortions in Africa being obtained by charlatans under unsafe conditions, often leading to serious complications such as sepsis, severe anaemia, infertility and death.
The Eastern Africa region also continues to experience an alarming rate of new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women. Currently, about 29% of new HIV infections occur among adolescent girls and young women (UNAIDS).
Uganda and Kenya recorded the highest prevalence rates in the region (at 7% and 6% respectively), with UNAIDS reporting an epidemic in almost all member countries.
The bill proposes science-based interventions to protect and facilitate the realization of sexual and reproductive health and rights throughout the lifespan of all people in the community, to promote and provide information and services sexual and reproductive health care for all people, including adolescents. and young people within the framework of universal health coverage in each partner State and promote responsible sexual and reproductive health behavior among adolescents and young people according to their evolving capacities.
Others are; facilitate and promote the prevention of neonatal, infant, maternal and morbid mortality from preventable causes, promote the reduction and elimination of unsafe abortions, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, early and unwanted pregnancies; and facilitate the elimination of harmful community practices, including child marriage and gender-based violence.
The process of legislating the bill, including opportunities for dialogue (and dissent), should be seen as a chance for collaboration, inclusion, and modeling the values of love, empathy, love and charity that many denominations profess. And at the very least, it should never fall into the use of underhanded tactics like shaming and blacklisting those who support the bill’s proposed interventions, discrimination and stigmatizing people facing problems health issues such as intersex people, young women and girls facing unintended health problems. pregnancies, couples facing infertility and survivors of sexual violence.
The EAC SRH Bill and other law and policy development processes are opportunities for meaningful dialogue and identification of strategies to improve the health and well-being of citizens of the seven states EAC bloc partners.
Yvonne Mpambara is a lawyer and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) advocate