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Why a section of the clergy and politicians are uneasy with Nairobi conference on population

NAIROBI
By Japheth Ogila | November 11th 2019

Evangelical Alliance of Kenya (EAK) bishops (from left) John Warari (ABBA Gospel Church), Geoffrey Njuguna (Deliverance Church Langata), Mark Kariuki (General Overseer Deliverance Church) and  Stanley Michuki (Kenya Congress of Pentecostal Churches Chair) during a press conference in Nairobi on November 10, 2019, to condemn the upcoming International Conference Population and Development. They argued the conference aims at advancing ideologies that promote practices contrary to the Christian faith and culture. [David Njaaga, Standard]

Kenya will be hosting the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) summit tomorrow in Nairobi amidst unease and anxiety from a section of political and religious leaders.

According to the National Council for Population Development, the country landed the opportunity to host the conference after she met the requirements and was viewed as an active member.

“Kenya is also a very active member of the FP2020 movement and has achieved remarkable progress by surpassing family planning targets and continuously seeking ways of improving the family planning program as a pathway towards the management of population growth and consequently attaining a quality life for its population,” a statement by the NCPD said.

Discontent

But the hosting of the summit, which has 179 member countries has been riddled with protests.

On November 9, 2019, some religious leaders led by the Chairman of Kenya Catholic Church Bishops (KCCB) Phillip Anyolo expressed displeasure over the summit, arguing that it could be used to promote immorality.

“We reject the introduction of ideologies centered on gender and other alien practices that go against our African culture and our religious heritage,” said Archbishop Anyolo.

The discontent attracted the interest of President Uhuru Kenyatta who the critics that at no point will the organisers tolerate any other discourse apart from a discussion on the alleviation of Female Genital Mutilation and gender-based violence.

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

The Director of the National Council for Population and Development Josephine Mbae also quelled the alarm when she said that Kenya was only assessing whether objectives set in Cairo, Egypt, during the 1994 maiden summit were met.

“We are simply asking ourselves whether we have kept the promise that we made alongside 178 other countries in Cairo 25 years ago,” said Dr Mbae.

The 25th ICPD conference has been organised by Kenya and Denmark governments, under the partnership of United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA).

The information on ICPD website reveals that the initiative rides on a program that was endorsed by the 179 members.

It notes: “The Programme of Action called for all people to have access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including voluntary family planning, safe pregnancy and childbirth services, and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.”

In explaining its origin, the ICPD says that the world was alarmed by low mortality rates in 1960s, therefore countries had to come together to configure various population control mechanisms.

 “The ICPD Programme of Action brought the global community together and reflected a new consensus about response to population growth. It firmly established that the rights and dignity of individuals, rather than numerical population targets, were the best way for individuals to realize their own fertility goals,” it states.

The programme list on ICPD website indicates that the conference will include watching films such as ‘Standing on their Shoulders’, a South African piece depicting women’s struggle.

 Other sessions will be about the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Inclusion, Working Towards Zero Maternity, Ending Violence against Women and Girls and Equity in Access and Countering Discrimination.

Where is the problem?

It is issues like a session titled “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: An essential element of Universal Health Coverage” that is causing goosebumps among conservative clergy and politicians.

It delves into issues such as upholding rights of minority groups, including the members of the LGBT.

“Marginalized groups, including minority ethnic groups, young people, unmarried people, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, people with disabilities, and the rural and urban poor continue to face barriers in accessing quality care. UHC provides a renewed opportunity to uphold their rights,” states the ICPD in the programme.

It further reveals that members will deliberate the progress made on delivering sexual and reproductive healthcare for the mentioned groups.

A session titled “Ending Unsafe Abortion by 2030: How do we get there?” will entail discussions on how to end deaths tied to unsafe abortions through exploring safe ways.

“The session will situate access to safe abortion as part of an essential SRHR package of interventions, and as a response to demands for choice and bodily autonomy. It will articulate unsafe abortion as a violent and harmful practice within the context of the medical abortion revolution and increasing anti-choice opposition,” it states.

Organizations such as Marie Stopes International, CRR, FIGO, the Guttmacher Institute, Right Here Right Now, SheDecides, UNFPA and WHO/HRP will be in attendance, the ICPD confirms.

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