“When we allow sexual and reproductive health to include rights, as Africans we are accepting to be influenced by western culture that of accepting persons with different sexual orientations which is not in line with our African culture”. African Leader
These were the sentiments of an African leader negotiating on behalf of Africans at the global level at the Commission on Status of Women 58th Session in March 2014. It has been four months ever since the Agreed Conclusions were adopted and these sentiments are stuck in my head and I wonder when was SRHR narrowed down to promotion of persons with different sexual orientation (LGBTI). Are some of our African leaders that narrow minded? Do they really understand the issues of Africans and are they burying their head in the sand by not recognizing persons of different sexual orientations exist in Africa? Are they fit to negotiate on our behalf if some of them do not understand the issues well? These are some of the many questions that have been lingering in my mind for some time now. I believe that universal access SRHR for all encompasses the rights of women with regards to their sexuality.
The right of women in regards to sexuality as in accordance to Beijing PFA (1994), para 96 includes, their right to have and to control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to the sexuality. These rights have numerously been recognized a number of times by the African governments in different declarations and commitments at the Global level such as the Rio +20 (para 146) which states that “We commit to reduce maternal and child mortality, and to improve the health of women, men, youth and children. We reaffirm our commitment to gender equality and to protect the rights of women, men and youth to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including access to sexual and reproductive health, free from coercion, discrimination and violence. We will work actively to ensure that health systems provide the necessary information and health services addressing the sexual and reproductive health of women, including working towards universal access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable modern methods of family planning, as this is essential for women’s health and advancing gender equality” This is not new to Africans and the #TheAfricaWeWant is where all women have full control over their bodies and sexuality.
In 1995, 189 states committed to Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) and its 12 critical areas of concern for women which includes universal access to quality health care for all women at all ages. Over the years the review process of BPFA has been cognizant of the language of SRHR and African states have committed to this language in all the global policy making processes. I fail to understand their sentiments about this foreign language (SRHR) that is not part of the African Agenda according to them.
Statistics show that every year at least 36,000 African women and girls die from unsafe abortion, accounting for 14 percent of all maternal deaths in the region. 287,000 women, most of them in Africa and Southeast Asia, died from preventable complications of pregnancy, childbirth and unsafe abortion (13% of maternal deaths). In other words we can say that in Africa, women’s death results from complications related to giving life. African leaders are aware of these phenomena, they cannot afford to say that access to SRHR services and needs for women is not an African agenda. African women need leaders who understand the issues and can negotiate on a language that will ensure every woman, throughout her life, have access to; a comprehensive, accessible, and integrated package of sexual and reproductive health services of high quality that fully respect and protect her sexual and reproductive rights.
Are we going to sit back relax as our sisters, daughters, cousins, nieces, friends and neighbors die every year due preventable deaths as they bring forth life? It is My, Yours, Our responsibility and that of our leaders to protect women and girls of Africa. We need to hold our leaders to account as they make decision about women’s bodies at the global level, we must ensure they are aware of the issues and are passionate about emancipation of women and full realizations of women’s rights. Take action today by joining in the women agenda in your country. It is our collective action that will bring forth change in Africa.
“You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And Reproductive Health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal and safe abortion” Hillary Clinton
* Written by Esther Kimani, a feminist & human rights activist and currently Consulting with FEMNET’s Advocacy Programme. Connect with her on twitter @kelsiekim and email: email@example.com