By Evance Odhiambo
The East African Sexual and Reproductive Bill 2021 currently before the General Purpose Committee of the East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) has received unanimous endorsement by representatives of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) drawn from health, human, children and women rights sectors in Kisumu County.
The Bill’s objective is to facilitate the attainment of life-course sexual and reproductive health and rights of all persons in the East African Community (EAC). It also aims at providing progressive realization of integrated sexual and reproductive health information and services as part of the universal health coverage of each partner state.
The EAC Sexual and Reproductive Bill 2021 seeks to strengthen the mechanism to facilitate attainment of universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services including family planning.
Speaking in Kisumu after a procession in solidarity with the bill, Mike Wanjegu, Tinada Youth Organization, one of the CSOs noted that the bill will help over 51 million women of reproductive age who want to avoid unwanted pregnancies, 19 million with unmet need for modern contraception/family planning and 2.5 million who have experienced unsafe abortion in East Africa.
“Additionally, it is estimated that the East Africa Community is loosing about 62,000 women annually from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth,” he said.
He noted that in Kenya adolescent pregnancy is one of the challenges that deny the young from realizing their growth aspirations of being representative citizens not only to themselves but also to the community at large. This will be part of the things addressed by the Bill if passed to law, Wanjegu said.
“The Kenya demographic and health surveys show that 1 out of 5 of girls begin having childbirth before their 19th birthday. Between January 2021, there were 7,754 adolescent girls aged 10 – 14 who became pregnant and attended their first antenatal care visit in the health facility, this number could be high since not all visited health facilities,” he added.
According to Sandra Yvonne Oketch, a member of the CSO, with adequate financing, the enactment of this Bill will have positive transformational impact on the state of sexual and reproductive health for the EAC state’s citizens.
She said that the Bill seeks to protect and facilitate the attainment of wholesome sexual and reproductive health and rights anchored as part of universal health coverage of East Africa Community state.
“We proudly endorse the proposed Bill that prohibits harmful practices and prioritizes evidence based interventions,” said Oketch.
Cecil Conchella, a member of Nyarwek, a CSO, on the other hand noted that the Bill will among others address teenage pregnancies, protect persons with disabilities, protect elderly persons, safeguard menstrual hygiene and enable prioritization of men’s reproductive rights.
He noted that the Bill is aligned to the existing EAC policies including Reproductive Maternal, Newborn Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH) Strategic Plan 2016 – 2021.
Her sentiments were supported by Mercy Odondo, Director at Gender Dialogues, a CSO, who said that the Bill will provide a standard upon which all six EAC states may be held accountable in relation to sexual reproductive health related obligations.
“While all six state parties have made personalized efforts to improve the reproductive health status of their citizens through various interventions including health systems strengthening, legal and policy reforms, there are disparities in progress,” said Odondo.
She noted that confirmed existence of these disparities goes against the vision of the East Africa Community which is to be a prosperous, competitive, secure and united East Africa.
“ As Kisumu based CSOs, we stand in solidarity with the Bill and General Purpose Committee of the East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) that has worked tirelessly and consultatively to develop this landmark Bill that has the potential to revolutionize the way Citizens of East African Community states experience sexual reproductive health,” said Odondo.