Why Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights are Human Rights

The Supreme Court in the United States last week declared that same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marry. This ruling that came during June Pride celebrations for the Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Intersex and Queer has once again revived the debate on sexual rights and on the broader aspect of sexual and reproductive health and rights.

To most, sexual and reproductive health and rights is all about advocating for homosexuality, a fact that have made most governments take hardline stance in negotiations at the global level, key in point the recent United Nations Commission on Population and Development that ended with no outcome document based on the fear that some nations wanted to ‘sneak’ in sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Last year during discussions on the Reproductive Healthcare Bill 2014, there was still no love lost for this ‘controversial’ issue.

But what exactly is sexual and reproductive health and rights? And why is it such a big issue?

Allow me to unpack it and explain just how central they are in realizing our domestic and global development dreams.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights is just the concept of human rights applied to sexuality and reproduction.

In 1994 nations of the world gathered in Cairo for the International Conference on Population and Development and agreed to approach population and development issues from a human rights perspective. The 179 nations agreed to reduce maternal mortality, fight HIV/AIDS, and increase access to family planning among others.

However twenty years after that commitment, men and women, especially young people still succumb to morbidity and mortality from limited access to sexual and reproductive health information and services.

A nation that stands with Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights stands for youth friendly services. Young people require services that are provided in the right place, at the right time, at the right price (free when necessary) and delivered in the right style to be acceptable to young people. Young people need services whereby they feel accepted and not condemned by the pious eye of the society. The government, in 2005, developed the National Guidelines on Provision of Youth Friendly Services. Over a decade later though, only ten percent of facilities are providing youth friendly services.

A nation that stands for sexual and reproductive health and right stands for comprehensive sexuality education. According to Google zeitgeist results, ‘what is sex?’ has consistently featured in the most asked questions by Kenyans online. This means that whereas young people are increasingly looking for information regarding their sexuality, they lack a credible center where they can get this information. Again, our government, alongside other Ministers of Education from Eastern and Southern Africa developed and assented to the Ministerial Commitment on Provision of Comprehensive Sexuality Education. Locally, there’s the Education Sector Policy on HIV/AIDS that’s very explicit on the need for Comprehensive Sexuality Education to manage the HIV/AIDS scourge.

According to the African Population Health Research Center, there are almost half a million abortion cases annually in Kenya. Over 70% of those who went for post abortion care were not using any methods of family planning. Would it not just be better to ensure access to family planning by all those who are already sexually active?

Doesn’t it make just make sense to invest in family planning and help curb the issue of unintended pregnancies and the ensuing incidences of unsafe abortions that result in damage to body organs, sometimes permanent, disabilities and or death? Does it escape our conscience that in the same year there was almost half a million abortions the most asked question online was how to abort?

There is no hidden theme in Sexual and reproductive health and rights. These rights just seeks to ensure the complete state of physical, emotional and mental well-being in all matters of sexual systems and reproductive health parts. These rights simply means that a person needs to have the right to choice of partners and or when and if to have children, right to sexual pleasure, integrity, freedom from violence, right to expression and health care.

The idea of sexual and reproductive health and rights as a western agenda therefore needs to cease. There is nothing western in our own local statistics that boldly glares at us.

Most importantly our statements at global level including at the United Nations need to reflect the true position of our policy and legal environment in Kenya.

As the Reproductive Health Care Bill makes another appearance before our lawmakers, my hope is that we shall discuss it from an informed point of view and embrace the reality that this is a local solution to our local challenges.




Image via Heartland

ROBERT ASEDA is the Partnerships and Policy Officer at the Network for Adolescents and Youth of Africa-Kenya Chapter, a youth led advocacy network that does sexual and reproductive health and rights advocacy. He has a BSc. Population Health from Kenyatta University. He has undergone training on budget advocacy, policy advocacy and media advocacy by Planned Parenthood Global and Choice for Youth and Sexuality of the Netherlands. He has been involved in the ICPD process and is currently the chairman of the National Youth Consortium on the POST2015 Development Agenda comprising of young people from organizations working in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights in Kenya. He is also a radio personality, a creative blogger, poet and a regular contributor to local dailies in Kenya. Connect with him on twitter: @Varaq

Subscribe to our mailing list