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Make girls and women the centre of Bill debate

Friday July 10 2020
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Amal Mohamed, a representative of Form Ni Gani Movement addressing media outside Parliament Buildings on April 17, 2018 during a peaceful march to raise awareness on reproductive health rights. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By FAITH ONEYA

The ‘antis’ and ‘pros’ of the Reproductive Healthcare Bill 2019 have much more in common than they would care to admit.

At the molten core of the fiery arguments about who’s right and who’s wrong lies a genuine desire to act in the best interest of those for whom the Bill is literally a matter of life and death: vulnerable girls, women and children (born and unborn).

Those girls and women for whom there will probably be no space for them to exercise these rights even if the Bill was passed into law. Those for whom a pregnancy complication signifies death of the child. Or mother. Or both.

It has been prejudicially labelled the ‘Abortion Bill’ by the ‘antis’, replete with an online petition to reject it. One such faction, the Evangelical Alliances of Kenya, argued that it normalises underage sex and encourages same-sex marriages.

SEXUAL PREASURE

“If we allow sexual pleasure to be taught as a right, what happens when one wants the pleasure, and there’s no consenting partner of the opposite sex?” posed Bishop Kepha Omae, a member of the group, during a press briefing.

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The answer for the ‘antis’ clearly lies in the rejection of the Bill. Yet it’s a fact that no amount of piousness can effectively control sexual urges, whether towards the same sex or not. Besides, underage sex still persists even under the watch of parents and guardians.

Let’s face it: there really can’t be a middle ground on matters sex or sexuality so this is not an argument for consensus on these topics. But because it’s the best interest of our girls and women, and by extension the unborn children, it’s critical for the ‘antis’, to draw from the Bill the potentially useful and empowering qualities that will promote these interests, even while rejecting the bits that seem to prick their morality. They might be difficult and painful concessions but they are necessary. It’s not about them.

Nakuru County senator Susan Kihika, who proposed the Bill, called this reaction by the ‘antis’ “misinformation, malice and intended to whip the emotions of the public”, adding that it’s just a reproductive healthcare Bill which does not encourage rape, underage sex or same sex marriage, as insinuated by members of the clergy.

LATEST CLAUSES

In an interview with Daily Nation, she emphasised that the State has a duty to ensure women and girls with disabilities have equal access to health care services.

Even if she is right, the person for whom the Bill is intended would probably listen to her pastor more than she would her politician. And one would be hard pressed to find a semi-literate girl or woman in the village using her evenings to catch up with the latest clauses in the Bill.

Civil society groups who have shown their support for the Bill have also been dismissed as having their own “NGO agenda to push” by the ‘antis’.

The other thing the ‘pros’ and ‘antis’ have in common is access to information and knowledge about the Bill. Trapped in their own convictions, they sometimes forget that the people for whom they claim to be fighting so hard for do not have the knowledge privilege that they do.

MATERNAL DEATHS

The information in the Bill about access to family planning services, right to reproductive health information, right to assisted reproduction and safe motherhood should be shared without any spin to suit the agenda of either side. This means it needs to reach Wanjiku minus emotions, propaganda and exaggerations.

For the ‘antis’, the staggering numbers of maternal deaths, teenage pregnancies and unsafe abortions should be the jolt they need to take a sober look at the Bill. These realities should be what both factions respond to, as they probably won’t listen to each other.

The tension between those for and against the Bill can only be useful if women and girls remain at the centre of it. After all, as the Swahili say, when two bulls fight, it’s the grass that bears the brunt.

Faith Oneya comments on social and gender topics. [email protected]; @FaithOneya

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