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EALA withdraws controversial bill on sexual, reproductive health

East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) has withdrawn a Bill on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights after various stakeholders raised concern against it.

This paved the way for the Committee on General Purpose to re-draft it.

Chairman of the Committee on General Purpose Mr Denis Namara told the Assembly chaired by Speaker Martin Ngoga that there were a number of identified gaps in the envisaged bill that was introduced in the House in January 2017.

Stakeholders had identified a number of areas of contestation in the bill when it was put before them for consideration.

Principally, the language contained in the bill did not align with the domestic laws of the East African Community (EAC) partner states, Mr Namara said.

It has been found not to align with other international instruments that include the Maputo Protocol and the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).

The Maputo Protocol (The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa) remains one of the most progressive legal instruments providing a comprehensive set of human rights for African women.

Unlike any other women's human rights instruments, the bill details wide-ranging and substantive human rights for women covering the entire spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural, as well as environmental rights.

Mr Namara informed the Assembly that content of the said bill included what is deemed to be varying understanding of the term 'abortion services' in the EAC region.

"The grounds for access to safe abortion vary in different countries in the EAC. The reproductive health rights of adolescents and young people beyond just HIV protection is absent. At the same time, male involvement in sexual reproductive health rights is completely absent from the Bill," the legislator said.

The bill also does not provide for the sexual and reproductive health rights for the elderly, menstrual hygiene for young girls, E-Health (health professionals, access to technology), and specialisation.

Other gaps include a missing link to culture and religion. It was noted that more than 80 per cent of Africa's population espouse to some form of religion – but that their interpretations of issues on matters like abortion, family planning, fertility differ. The matter thus requires more engagement with regards to interpretation of the mentioned issues.

On culture, Mr Namara noted that the bill in its current format provides for surrogacy, assisted reproduction and In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) that are against some traditions of some people in the EAC partner states. There is also a missing link for elderly persons beyond the age of 55 years in the bill.

"Ensuring availability of sexual and reproductive health services for men and women beyond 55 years is very crucial for women in menopause, Prostate issues for men, sexual dysfunctions, reproductive organ cancer – testicular, ovarian, breast among others. Therefore, all men and women from the ages 12 to 55 should be considered," Mr Namara added.

The Bill is premised on Article 118 of the Treaty for the Establishment of EAC that provides for cooperation in health and promoting the management of health delivery systems. The move to withdraw the bill received support on the floor.

Mr Kennedy Mukulia (South Sudan) said it was necessary and vital for gaps in the bill to be addressed and re-drafted afresh, given various developments that have already taken place.

He termed the issues considered by the Committee on General Purpose as pertinent to human society and towards aligning with the universal health coverage initiatives in the partner states.

Mr Christopher Nduwayo (Burundi) was of the view that the bill was controversial especially in context to religion, traditional and cultural views. Ms Oda Gasinzigwa (Rwanda) was thankful to the mover (Dr Odette Nyiramilimo) for initiating the bill.

Ms Josephine Lemoyan (Tanzania) said the critical parts of reproductive health should be given due attentionMs Mary Mugyenyi (Uganda) sought advice on the timelines before the Bill is reintroduced, saying the subject matter was important to the people of East Africa.

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