Article by Sandra Y. Oketch
Globally, access to sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR services) have been greatly hampered by social exclusion, more so in Africa. In November 2019, Kenya was privileged to host the United Nations summit – International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD 25) – which focused on diversity, abortion care, ending gender based violence, elimination of female genital mutilation, FGM, ending unmet need for family planning, comprehensive sexuality education, mental health and psychosocial support, HIV prevention for adolescent girls and women.
Women and other minority groups experience social exclusion when women and girls get abortions, when girls fail to undergo traditional practices of some communities, like the FGM, and are considered outcasts, and when individuals identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender, LGBT.
There exists high maternal morbidity and mortality in women due to unsafe abortion practices. In Kenya, abortion is illegal and only legalized in instances where the health care provider assesses that the life or health of the mother is in danger therefore limiting access to safe abortion services. This is compounded by the stigma and discrimination from the community on early and unwanted teenage pregnancy leading to young girls searching for unsafe abortion practices.
Much attention needs to be given to the LGBT population by reducing the stigma and discrimination around their identity and/or sexual orientation thereby increasing access to SRH services and prevention of HIV incidence. Kenya has experienced declines in HIV incidence due to the scaling up of various prevention and treatment programs. The most at risk populations that are more than often neglected and socially excluded are the LGBT population. Including this group by ensuring access to SRH care will go a long way to fight the HIV/AIDs menace and ensure rights to health care and human dignity. Irrespective of our political, religious and social standing, it is important to have an open mind in creating safe spaces that ensures human rights and diversity are fully embraced.
The ICPD25 did not go without its fair share of challenges which included protests by the political class, civil society organizations (CSOs) and religious organizations who rallied against some of the agendas put forward by the conference. The opposed agendas included creation of safe spaces for abortion care, respect to diversity and human rights, specifically concerning the LGBT population.
We need to continuously have deliberations about creating safe spaces for all, ensuring access to and rights to SRH care. The conference brought these conversations home as most of the Global leaders articulated the various needs and advancements in SRHR, and made commitments to improving and increasing access to SRHR.
The UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem echoed UNFPA commitment to the ICPD program of action through ‘intensifying investments and actions towards achieving 3 transformative goals.’ The goals include 1. Zero preventable maternal deaths, 2. Zero unmet need for modern contraceptives, and 3. Zero violence against women including early child marriages and FGM.
What next after ICPD 25? We all look forward to seeing most if not all the commitments realized in due course and that no woman has to die for lack of RH services. Emphasis need to be placed on mobilizing for political support and domestic support.