By Fidelite Nice Nshimiyimana
In 2007, FEMNET organised Regional Workshops on Advocacy for Reproductive and Sexual Health Rights (SRHR) in East Africa., targeting Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The aim of the workshops was to build African Women’s capacity to act and advocate around reproductive and sexual rights on their own behalf and enabling African women to influence national legal and policy frameworks to protect and promote reproductive and sexual rights in Africa by identifying and demonstrating ways to address barriers to reproductive and sexual rights.
FEMNET’s Executive Director Norah Matovu Winyi explained that out of the many programmes that FEMNET is implementing, key successes have been scored in the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Project. This project seeks to enable African women to exercise their reproductive and sexual rights to influence national legal and policy frameworks to protect and promote reproductive and sexual rights in Africa. Under this programme FEMNET has undertaken a research on Sexual and Reproductive Health and rights in Africa. Research findings have been disseminated. An Advocacy toolkit on Sexual and Reproductive Health and rights in Africa has also been published. The ultimate goal is not only to inform but to facilitate a collective action that will go on till the status of the African Woman is improved as far as their sexual rights are concerned.
A unique feature with the SRHR programme is that out of the workshop held in East Africa, Uganda formed a national chapter. The workshops were organised as an intervention strategy arising from the findings of an action research commissioned by FEMNET in 2007.
Specific objectives of the workshop included;
- Raising awareness of the strategic SRHR of women.
- Assess needs and key messages for country SRHRs programmes or campaigns
- Develop strategies for addressing SRHR issues as they affect women;
- Identify participatory approaches that will strengthen the SRHRs campaign. Make input into the training manual and;
- Identify advocacy and training approaches as well as mobilization strategies for organizations, their constituencies and governments.
The general fourfold long-term objective of the workshop was:
- Building public awareness on social and economic advantages of women and for the girl- child so they can be able to negotiate and exercise their SRHRs
- Identifying and analyzing emergent problems and how they hinder the development of women and girls
- Demonstrating, through sharing of experiences, the ordeals of women and girls whose predicaments result from lack of knowledge and awareness of their SRHRs; and disseminating existing material on SRHRs that will empower women.
- Encouraging women to speak out and take action on SRHRs issues
Ms. Matovu-Winyi also explained that the workshop also aimed at identifying advocacy strategies for improving the capacity of women to negotiate their sexual and reproductive health and rights. She added that one of the agendas was to assess the implementation of International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and other relevant international and regional instruments by African governments.
After attending the workshops one of the participants decided to establish a chapter on Sexual Health and reproductive Health Rights in Uganda. This was after realising the information gap for Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) that Mr. Obed Kabanda decided to form a chapter in Uganda. The chapter organisation operates under the umbrella board of Action for Community Development-Uganda (ACODEV-U). The prime focus of the chapter is: “ enhancing Sustainable Livelihoods among the local underprivileged Communities especially women and children in their Social, Health and Economic, context” through contributing to full and accountable implementation of pro-poor policies and empowering communities, especially women, to access development services as well as take responsibility for their development in a socially sustainable, just and peaceful environment by effectively accessing relevant information, skills, resources and support mechanisms in a multi-disciplinary context.
ACODEV-U has been in existence for the past five years; it is registered by the Non Governmental Organizations Board of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Uganda and is recognized at different levels in Uganda and outside Uganda. After participating in the Regional Workshops on Advocacy for Reproductive and Sexual Health Rights (SRHR) in East Africa organised by FEMNET, ACODEV-U decided to establish a chapter on Sexual Health and Reproductive Health Rights within the organisation. The Chapter on SRHR focuses on Reproductive Health Rights program, Safe motherhood, maternal health promotion at community levels, advocating for reduced maternal mortality as well as supporting treatment and re-integration of mothers who leak urine or faeces or both through rectum or vagina(Recto Vaginal Fistula or Vesico Vaginal Fistula-RVF&VVF) due to torn bladder or rectum during birth/delivery complications associated with poor emergency obstetric care in the rural communities, and Adolescent sexual health)
ACODEV-U also focuses on the following Programs:
- Human rights promotion among the local communities (Rights awareness and education/support through information giving, training, Community Action Groups as well as offering community level counselling and support for referral in case of rights abuse-defilement, rape, and early marriages.)
- Reproductive Health Rights program including Safe motherhood and maternal health promotion at community levels including advocating for reduced maternal mortality as well as supporting treatment and re-integration of mothers who leak urine or faeces or both through rectum or vagina(Recto Vaginal Fistula or Vesico Vaginal Fistula-RVF&VVF) due to torn bladder or rectum during birth/delivery complications associated with poor emergency obstetric care in the rural communities, and Adolescent sexual health)
- Orphans and Vulnerable Children Support Project that focus on working with orphan care givers and other stakeholder to raise hope among the orphans in the rural communities in Uganda.
- Domestic Violence Prevention and support for women who are mainly the sufferers through awareness raising of its effects, counselling, legal redress, economic empowerment and support. We have also started the Men to Men program and also campaigning on the intersection of Domestic Violence with HIV/AIDS in 22 Sub-Counties in Kasese and Bushenyi Districts.
- Research and information management including maintaining an Information Resource Centre that informs our programming and implementation.
ACODEV-U involves women, men, local and religious leaders in dialoguing about safe motherhood and fistula prevention in communities.
ACODEVU’ s Executive Director, Obed Kabanda, says: “for the last five years now, ACODEV-U has been conducting its programs applying the Rights Based Approach to Development through our own initiative of a continuum of five strategic principles/ approaches that we apply in our programming. All those efforts are aimed at promoting empowerment, addressing discrimination, promoting non-violent families, promoting sustainability and ensuring accountability and responsibility of development actors” Said Kabanda.
Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights in Africa are critical for the realisation of Millennium Development Goal Number three, whose target is to achieve gender equality by 2015. However, for many African countries, Sexual and reproductive rights are far fetched. African governments do not recognise that these rights are part of human rights because women rights are still treated as optional. This is evident from the slow ratification of international instruments that protect women’s rights such as the African Union protocol on women rights. This situation has provided impetus for FEMNET to continue providing information to the female gender and nurture its members across Africa till they are able to move forward in claiming their rights.
The African Women’s Development and communication Network (FEMNET) is a regional, pan African membership-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) with its secretariat based in Nairobi Kenya. It operates through Sub-regional and National Focal Points (NFP) most of which are women’s network or umbrella organizations. FEMNET was set up in 1988 to share information, experiences, ideas and strategies among African women’s NGOs as a strategy for strengthening women’s capacity to participate effectively the development of our continent. This is done through advocacy, training, communication and networking. FEMNET has for the past 20 years continued to play a leading role in building the women’s movement in Africa and ensuring that African women voices influence decisions made at different levels that impact on their lives through advancing women’s empowerment, development, equality and peace in Africa.
*Fidelite Nice Nshimiyimana is an intern at FEMNET in the Communication Programme*