What you need to know:
- Access to information is a fundamental constitutional right.
- It guarantees the citizens the right to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas concerning health.
A June-July 2018 study by The Center for Reproductive Rights and Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health (Ticah) documented poor reproductive health outcomes. They included high rates of unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions; high incidences of sexually transmitted infections; and low uptake of modern contraceptives among adolescents and young women. There was sexual and reproductive health violations, like lack of access to dignified maternal healthcare services and sexual and gender-based violence such as rape and sexual exploitation.
The results pointed to a disconnect between the promise of the Constitution and the reality in terms of women’s and girls’ access to and enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Article 43 provides for the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including reproductive health. This means being in a state of complete physical, mental, social and emotional wellbeing, including reproduction and the reproductive system, not merely being without disease.
This is an inclusive right that encompasses a wide range of factors to help women and girls to live whole and healthy lives. The factors, which include information and education on health and reproductive health, are the underlying determinants of health. Without them, one would not be able to take charge of their health and make decisions or take actions that allow them to live optimally. Their absence spells death for women and girls.
Access to information is a fundamental constitutional right. It guarantees the citizens the right to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas concerning health. But the study found that women and girls lack knowledge of what sexual and reproductive health and rights entail and are unaware of what they are entitled to and can claim from the government, health facilities and others.
Leave no one behind
Contrary to the government’s commitment to leave no one behind through implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, the study found that men, adolescents, women and girls with multiple forms of disability were neither substantively involved nor considered in state programmes on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Bearing in mind the crucial nature of comprehensive reproductive health information and education to the realisation of healthy and productive individuals and, therefore, a thriving nation, the government should take the following steps.
It should staff all health facilities with practitioners trained in the provision of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights information; urgently finalise, publish and roll out a curriculum on comprehensive sexual and reproductive health for in- and out-of-school adolescents, to be delivered by trained teachers; undertake regular, nationwide awareness campaigns on sexual and reproductive health for persons of all demographics on widely accessible media; and provide the information and education in formats accessible by all persons with disabilities.
Ms Odallo is advocacy adviser for Africa, Center for Reproductive Rights. @BettyOdallo