Quality maternal health care, equality far from being realised

Kenya is hosting the 2019 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) that was officially opened by President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday.

The conference themed ‘Accelerating the Promise’, is in its 25th year. The first event was held in Cairo in 1994.

The Cairo conference laid emphasis on the promotion of girls’ and women’s rights as key factors to the well-being of families and nations as a whole.

Those rights can only be guaranteed when gender equality and reproductive health, in the context of fundamental human rights, are put into operation. It has not been an easy undertaking, particularly in Africa where cultural norms and traditions put women in a disadvantaged position.

Some of these challenges include early and forced marriages, female genital mutilation (FGM), gender-based violence and patriarchal societies that deny girls quality education in the mistaken belief that the place of women is in their husbands’ homes.

Indeed, UN Secretary General António Guterres expressed his concern after acknowledging that women still face enormous challenges in their quest for equal rights and access to good maternal health care.

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According to the UN chief, at least 500 women die daily during childbirth or from pregnancy related complications. “Violence against women and girls affects one-in-three women worldwide”, said Guterres in New York in July this year.

So, while conference participants take stock of the ICPD hits and misses in the past 25 years, it should not be lost on them that more still needs to be done, and that governments must be petitioned to take concrete steps towards actualising women’s rights, away from empty rhetoric during international conferences.

Kenya has made significant progress in granting women their rights through constitutional guarantees and access to maternal health care for expectant women. The Beyond Zero campaign, created to improve maternal and child health through mobile clinics, has made progress in reducing maternal and child deaths.

On its part, the government has taken an active role in ensuring gender-based violence comes to an end, and that the practice of female genital mutilation is eliminated by 2022.

The agreement between Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia and Ethiopia to address cross border FGM practice is a positive step towards this endeavour. We are not yet out of the woods, which is why more has to be done towards guaranteeing women their rights. Failure by Parliament to pass the two-thirds gender representation rule, is one of the impediments to gender parity.

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International Conference on Population and DevelopmentICPDFGMUN Secretary General António Guterres2022Beyond Zero