Uhuru leads chorus for women's rights

The invited delegates at KICC on 12th November 2019 during International Conference Population and Development commonly(ICPD-25)Nairobi summit. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

Kenya yesterday made several commitments that promise to better the lives of women and girls within a decade.

Addressing the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) in Nairobi, President Uhuru Kenyatta reiterated his commitment to eliminate female circumcision within three years.

President Kenyatta said Kenya has signed an agreement with Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia and Ethiopia on preventing cross-border female genital mutilation (FGM).

Uhuru said last week a similar agreement was signed with local community elders and religious leaders to end FGM by 2022.

Data shows about 21 per cent of women and girls in Kenya still undergo FGM despite it being illegal. This, however, is a decline from 38 per cent in 1998, a drop of about 17 per cent in 16 years.

Uhuru said women, being the backbone of the family and the gatekeepers of family health, exert a powerful influence on inter-generation outcomes of their children.

Traumatic effects

“Empowering women essentially empowers nations, societies and the world,” he said.

The President added that Kenya has dramatically reduced child and infant mortality.

“Reduction in maternal mortality has been steady but slower from 698 in 1994 to 362 per 100,000 live births while the contraceptive prevalence rate has doubled,” he said. 

Uhuru said globally 800 women and girls die every day during pregnancy or childbirth, and that four million girl every year have to endure the traumatic effects of FGM.

Additionally, there are more than 33,000 girls who are married off every day before the age of 18 and millions of unemployed youth with limited hope for their future.

Uhuru, however, steered clear of issues that have attracted opposition to the conference from local religious groups.

The Kenya Catholic Church Bishops (KCCB) and the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya (EAK) bishops have separately raised concerns that the meeting might be used to promote foreign ideologies in Kenya, including sex education and contraceptives for school children and homosexuality.

However over the weekend, Uhuru assured Kenyans that the discussion will only cover varied and agreed on topics.

“Next week, we have visitors here who will discuss varied topics. We will agree on issues of fighting gender-based violence and FGM, but if they bring issues against our African culture then we will not agree with them,” said Uhuru at State House, Nairobi.

One contentious issue which by yesterday was still on the table for discussion was the rights of youths and girls to comprehensive sex education and contraceptives.

A press statement released yesterday by the conference indicated Kenya was among governments that have made major commitments towards the ICPD agenda.

“Among Kenya’s many commitments are actions to accelerate equality, equitable access and availability of reproductive health service for women and girls,” said Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary  Ministry Macharia Kamau.

While we were not able to access the details of Kenyan's commitment on reproductive health services for girls, the issue was slotted for discussion last evening.

However, a conference document: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: An Essential Element to Universal Health Coverage, indicates the sex rights for 10-year-olds, forms part of the commitments.

“All individuals have a right to make decisions governing their body and to access services that support that right. Every individual has the right to make his or her own choices about his or her sexual and reproductive health,” the document reads in part.

Such language has been opposed by the Catholic Church, arguing in the past it has been used to camouflage groups covering LGBTs, and other foreign ideologies.

The document further clarifies that people should be able to have a safe sex life, the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.

In what could further agitate the Church, some conference documents say adolescents aged between 10 and 19 have the right to comprehensive sexuality education in and out of school.

Such adolescents, the documents say, should have access to counselling and services for a range of modern contraceptives.

A toolkit prepared for the Nairobi conference on youth engagement educates them mainly on their sexual rights. The youth, it says, have a right over their body: “This means having access to sexual reproductive health (SRH) services and information and being able to exercise them regardless of age or marital status.”

Comprehensive SRH, the toolkit says, include contraception, safe delivery, safe abortion care and STI testing and treatment.

Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE), the report says, means that adolescents can learn about sexuality, gender and reproduction in school.

“Access to CSE is a human right; an individual should be able to make informed decisions to navigate life changing decisions about their own sexuality and reproduction,” says the toolkit.

The conference is also asking states to increase access to safe abortion and safe abortion care. “States should strive to allow a woman to decide when, if, how many and with whom to have children.”

The conference continues up to Thursday when various country government. NGO and civil groups will make concrete but non-abiding commitments.

In an opinion piece carried elsewhere in this paper, US ambassador to Kenya Kyle McCarter cautioned against use of the forum by pro-abortion groups as a vehicle to try and further their agenda. 

“Unfortunately, these groups are attempting to re-write ICPD’s Programme of Action language agreed to by 179 governments in 1994 within a carefully negotiated Programme of Action with an alternative set of commitments that go beyond what was agreed to by member states in the original ICPD,” he said.

While leaders at the conference were pushing for ‘my body my choice’ agenda, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's speech took a different turn. 

Museveni's take

His comments quashed earlier praises given by UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem who hailed feminists and activists behind campaigns on ‘my body my choice’.

Museveni said while he advocates for women and girls to have ‘the say’ on their bodies, it does not hurt to seek advice.

The girls own their bodies. I totally agree that my daughter and granddaughter own their bodies,” he said. “When you own something, like property don’t you get a consultant to help you?”

President Mohamed Farmajo of the Federal Republic of Somalia said his country is committed to ensuring equal rights. “I am actually convinced that girls and women must be supported to play a role in development,” he said.

Seychelles President Danny Faure said his country aims to invest in educational skills and improve funding for Sexual Reproductive Health.