Malawi: Govt Warned Against Raping AU Treaty On Reproductive Health

Malawi has an obligation to liberalise its abortion laws as the fulfillment of the commitments it made by signing and ratifying several international treaties including the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, argue DARLINGTON HARAWA and BRIAN LIGOMEKA

It seems we, Malawians, enjoy lying. For most of us, lying has become part of our lives. When our friends ask us where we have been, we lie that we were "so busy" - when, in fact, we were only where God knows.

Some have graduated from being occasional liars to pathological liars. According to recent outbursts, liars dominate in politics and even in religion. It is alleged that some liars are being economical with the truth on the issue of blackouts while others allege that some clerics lie about their qualifications in theology.

From the war of words, compulsive liars are in abundance. The situation is so worse that almost every debate is dogged by lies. Even the debate on the law reform that can enable women to access adequate sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services is fraught with lies.

Some liars have even forgotten that the issue of provision of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services is provided for in the laws of our country.

The Gender Equality Act of 2013 in Section 19 provided that: "Every person has a right to adequate sexual and reproductive health which includes the right to:

access sexual and reproductive health

access family planning services

to be protected from sexually transmitted infection

self-protection from sexually transmitted infection

choose the number of children and when to bear the children

control fertility; and

choose an appropriate method of contraception

The second part of the same section provides that "Subject to any other written law, any person has the right to choose whether to have a child or not to have a child."

That is the provision in our own laws which were passed in Parliament by both the ruling and opposition parties. The law is very clear that every woman is free to have a child or not. Hence no,one - not even your pastor has no power - to deny you freedom from enjoying your sexual and reproductive health and rights.

In fact the provision of Section 19 of the our Gender Equality Act is in tandem with the commitment which our government made by signing and ratifying the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa championed by African Union.

By signing and ratifying it, Malawi committed to fulfil the protocol which in Article 14 provides as follows:

States Parties shall ensure that the right to health of women, including sexual and reproductive health is respected and promoted. This includes:

the right to control their fertility;

the right to decide whether to have children, the number of children and the spacing of children;

the right to choose any method of contraception;

the right to self-protection and to be protected against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/Aids;

the right to be informed on one's health status and on the health status of one's partner, particularly if affected with sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/Aids, in accordance with internationally recognised standards and best practices;

f) the right to have family planning education.

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to:

provide adequate, affordable and accessible health services, including information, education and communication programmes to women especially those in rural areas;

establish and strengthen existing pre-natal, delivery and post-natal health and nutritional services for women during pregnancy and while they are breast-feeding;

protect the reproductive rights of women by authorising medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus.

Despite having these clear national and international laws, which demonstrate that Malawi has an obligation to ensure the provision of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health, some deliberately bend the truth and speak as if our nation does not have laws authorising the same.

It is important to realise that Malawi's proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill among others give guidelines and a framework for the implementation of our already existing laws. The proposed law also fulfills the obligations and commitments our country made by signing and ratifying international treaties including Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.

Any delay to enact Termination of Pregnancy Bill into law, when government has already made commitment through our own Gender Equality Act to provide adequate sexual and reproductive health services is tantamount to raping our own laws and international treaties. The longer Malawi delays to enact Termination of Pregnancy, the more sit entrenches itself as a rapist of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.

Darlington Harawa is executive director of Passion for Women while Brian Ligomeka is director of Centre for Solutions Journalism

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