Kenya: Clergy Warn ICPD Against Ignoring African Cultures, Religions

11 November 2019

Delegates in a session called by the All Africa Conference of Churches on Monday failed to agree on unanimous opposition to contentious sections of the International Conference on Population Development set to be discussed on Tuesday.

Some members of the AACC are up in arms against some of the issues that will be discussed at the conference.

They claimed ICPD 25 promotes voluntary abortion, same sex marriages and early involvement in sex, including homosexuality.

Prof Bosela Eale, who is the AACC's Director of Inter-Religious Relations and Community Service, warned the ICPD against ignoring the culture and religious beliefs of the African continent.

"The link between population and development is a very important one but this is a challenge we must solve using home grown solutions," said Prof Eale.

"We need to grant the right people of the right age access to family planning services. We cannot give children these services and others including voluntary abortion in the name of providing access to universal to reproductive health rights."

KEY DEFINITION

According to Sheikh Hassan Omari of the Al Wahda Muslim Teachers' Association, the religious community has a problem with some of the wording and ideologies behind the ICPD 25 statements.

He raised issue with the definition of reproductive health rights as stated in the meeting's action plan, saying it would result in the decline in moral values among Muslim faithful if adopted.

"Muslims cannot accept inclusion of the term "body autonomy" in the ICPD discussions as it assumes that a woman is in control of her body and can make decisions on child-bearing on her own. This is wrong, according to our to teachings."

The cleric said Islam allowed the use of condoms as a contraceptive, the use of birth control pills as well as the withdrawal method during sex.

He however clarified that the religion does not allow voluntary adult abortion or vasectomy.

"Islam does not allow vasectomy or abortion, except in cases where a child has been defiled and is pregnant. In this a case, the child is allowed to undergo an abortion to save her from further trauma caused by the rape and the subsequent pregnancy," he said

He further alleged that some members of the AACC had been denied accreditation to attend the conference because of their stand on key issues under discussion at the conference.

RIGOROUS REGISTRATION

Sheikh Omar said the rigorous online registration process for delegates also included questions on their religious affiliation and stand on family planning, body autonomy and reproductive health rights.

"When filling in our registration details, we were asked several questions regarding our religious affiliations and our stand on reproductive health rights, universal access to family planning and individual's rights over their bodies or body autonomy. My colleagues who opposed these issues were denied accreditation," he said.

His sentiments were echoed by Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome, a Muslim cleric and teacher, who said Islamic youth groups attending the conference were mobilised to take a firm stand against resolutions or statements promoting activities seen as anti-Islam.

"We will not allow the ICPD 25 to impose foreign values on our people that will be against the teachings of the Quran," he said.

ACCEPTABLE SOLUTIONS

Sheikh Lethome said the clergy was aware of the problems women and girls face, such as child marriages, sexual and gender based violence as well as female genital mutilation, but added that they required local and culturally acceptable solutions.

"Our women and girls have problems which we are not blind to. What we insist on is finding solutions in line with our religion and culture as Africans. Foreign ideologies that will result in abandoning religious and moral values are simply not welcome," said Sheikh Lethome.

MISUNDERSTANDING

According to Angela Nguku of the White Ribbon Alliance, the stand by religious groups was based on a misunderstanding of the issues for discussion at the summit that will mark the 25th anniversary of the first ICPD meeting held in 1994 in Cairo.

Ms Nguku differed with the religious leaders' vehement opposition to the principle of universal access to family planning, saying it was driven by an ignorant and prejudiced perception.

She said Kenyan law criminalised abortion but safeguarded the right of women who had procured abortions to safe post-abortion care to nurse them back to health.

She added that the alliance supported and promoted this right, but not that of voluntary abortion.

"The alliance does not advocate for voluntary abortion but it is clear that abortions are being procured in the country so it is necessary to ensure that women who go to health facilities for post-abortion care are given the medical attention they deserve," she said.

"Our constitution provides for this right and our faith based facilities should not discriminate against such women.".

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