Achieving SDG-related Sexual and Reproductive Health Targets

Keynote Address to the 2023 RESPEKT Conference, Kisumu City

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Rightfully, FREEDOM was the rally call for last year’s political party campaigns. However, little was said by most political parties about expanding reproductive health freedom. Over the three days of the Kisumu, Eldoret and Nairobi RESPEKT 2023 conferences, 3,000 girls (10-19 years) will have unprotected sex, 3 will die from pregnancy related complications, 105 will drop out of school and 3,600 women and girls will have abortions. 45% of those having abortions will be between the age of 10-19. The recent Kenya Demographic and Health Survey reminds us, we still face a reproductive health emergency.

As sexual and reproductive health freedom and responsibility champions, four challenges need our attention today.

We must confront the virulent misinformation that safe abortions guaranteed under our constitution, sex education and contraceptives will encourage irresponsible promiscuity. Only youth informed choices, health science and evidence-based data can expand the limited successes we have seen against the constitutional ambition of Article 43 and the Maputo Protocol of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

We must also intellectually challenge the creeping moralism in public debates and public policy. There are some who would insist that only the nuclear family (father, mother, and children) is the only acceptable family unit. Yet, we know that all over the world and in Kenya, we have single mother headed (and some single fathers), polygamous, co-habiting partners and same sex headed families. Reproductive health policy must not be used to impose one family model based on our chosen moral values.

Thirdly, Kshs 9 billion has just been slashed from the 2022/23 health budget. Two thirds of this Kshs 6 billion cut is the funding set aside for preventative, promotive and reproductive health programmes. This cut endangers one of Kenya Kwanza’s manifesto promises to shift health programming from costly curative to preventative programmes. Lastly, while the reproductive health crisis stalks young people nationally, the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey informs us, the focus for our work must be in Samburu, West Pokot, Marsabit and Narok counties.

Prepare to respond to those who see the choices of young people as “moral crimes” or in need of “moral policing”. Keep conversations with young people open and safe and be guided by their experiences and thoughts. This, not blame, judgement and vertical correction, will get us closer to our constitutional aspiration and keep all safe and dignified.

Cultivate a wide-angle perspective for our work. A free press, an independent judiciary and universal education are all important for sexual and reproductive health rights. Girls and women’s voices cannot be heard without a free press. They will not seek justice if they do not trust our courts. Without education, girl marriages are inevitable. Encourage all to register and demand reforms for inclusive health insurance.

For those currently anxious about the future of this work be reassured, that it is these uncertain moments that breathe most purpose and passion in our lives. Secondly, moments, don’t last forever.

Thank you for all the work you do and the opportunity to further our national conversation.

Irungu Houghton

Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director

For more information and interviews, contact Mathias T. Kinyoda on Mobile: +254723424802 Email: [email protected]