Kenya activists launch campaign to ease abortion laws

Reproductive health activists have launched yet another campaign in Kenya aimed at ensuring that information and services for reproductive and sexual health care are available, accessible and affordable, and that any existing legal or informal barriers to such access are removed

Launching the campaigns in Nairobi, Grace Maingi Kimani, Coalition on Violence Against Women – Kenya (COVAW) said Kenya needs improved, more comprehensive reproductive health care services.

She said this needs to be reflected in the country’s HIV/AIDS policies and programs.

She said the campaigns will aim at ensuring the enactment of a comprehensive reproductive health rights law and policies as enumerated in the Maputo protocol, to which Kenya is signatory to.

According to activists, other strategic institutions, which are crucial to the realization of women’s rights, should actively be engaged in order to propagate women’s rights.

Lucy Simiyu of the Health Rights Advocacy Forum, (HERAF), a project of the Kenya Human Rights Commission said the campaigns will aim to advance women’s reproductive health, empower them address the social conditions that jeopardize their lives and health and to stamp out widely tolerated “natural, accepted, inevitable, necessary or customary” violations.

Simiyu said key to this campaign will be to introduce national laws and policies that respect, protect, and fulfill women’s reproductive rights as addressing women’s reproductive health is crucial to promoting gender equality and the right to development.

Simiyu said the campaigners will engage the government to ensure that the principles of the right to reproductive health care and the right to reproductive self-determination are respected and followed in the country.

The Maputo Protocol was adopted on the July 2003 by Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) during the Second Ordinary Summit of the AU convened in Maputo, Mozambique.

The Protocol obligates States to respect and promote the health of women especially in the area of sexual and reproductive health.

The right to health calls for government’s duty to ensure that health care is available. Provision of reproductive health services without discrimination – need to take into account particular health needs of both women and men.

Need for affirmative measures to ensure that RH care is available and accessible to all women. The adoption of the Protocol was pushed by widespread sentiments that African women continued to suffer human rights violations simply because they were women and the existing guarantees for the protection of their rights were felt to be inadequate.

However, according to Patricia Nyaundi of the Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA, understaffing, lack of supplies/facilities, unhygienic conditions in many clinics and lack of record keeping and transparency combined with restrictive abortion law and non-existence of law hamper Kenyan women accessing these rights.

Nyaundi said because of these shortcomings, women in the country have continued to suffer abuse around delivery, neglect and violations around stitching after delivery.

Worse still she said, women suffer detention in health facilities for inability to pay. These and other underlying issues have led to thousands of women in Kenya to seek reproductive health services in backstreet clinics.

A report released last year by the Kenya Medical Association, the Kenyan chapter of the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-K), the Ministry of Health and International Projects Assistance Services (IPAS) – a United States-based organisation that lobbies for women’s reproductive rights indicates that about 300,000 abortions are performed in the country each year, causing an estimated 20,000 women and girls to be hospitalised with related complications.

This translates into a daily abortion rate’ of about 800 procedures – and the death of 2,600 women every year.

Attempts by activists to call for favourable laws that would allow for abortion as a contraceptive measure have always faced resistance in the country.

Pro-life organisations claim that preventing unwanted pregnancies is a better way of reducing these deaths.

According to Jean Kaggi, Chairwoman of the Protecting Life Movement of Kenya, the first preventive measure is advocating for utilisation of family planning facilities, and making sure they are accessible to every woman or girl who is sexually active.

Recognising this anomaly, the pro-choice groups now call for lessening of conditions that would prevent abortions to take place.

For example, they note that while abortion is legal in Kenya according to scattered penal codes 35-63, the requirements that two practising medics and a psychiatrist are needed to certify the risk to a mother’s life and hence need for abortion is uncalled for.

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