Kenya's rights body issues landmark call on reproductive health
On May 3 2012, the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) released the findings of its national public inquiry into sexual and reproductive health. The inquiry, which was the first to be held by a national human rights institution on the topic, heard evidence from close to 200 individuals, groups and institutions across the country. Its final report, entitled Realising Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights in Kenya: A Myth or a Reality?, presents a sweeping indictment of the state of sexual and reproductive health rights in Kenya.
The document, which was produced with the support of CESR, has attracted most attention for its strong stance against laws criminalizing homosexuality, sex work and abortion in Kenya. These laws make it difficult for patients to access the services—at times life saving—that they need. The existence of such legislation, the report concludes, flies in the face of the government’s obligation to respect the right to sexual and reproductive health.
The report also documents numerous ways in which the government has failed to protect rights by adequately supervising both public and private facilities. Patients seeking sexual and reproductive health services reported that they faced discrimination and harassment on the grounds of age, gender, disability, sexual orientation or behavior, marital status and HIV/AIDS status. Patients unable to pay their bills reported being detained in facilities, while patients experiencing incompetent or negligent treatment told of their frustration at the lack of channels for redress.
More broadly, insufficient funding has meant that policy initiatives in the sector have failed to translate into the infrastructure, goods and services needed to fulfill the right to sexual and reproductive health. This has limited the availability of services like family planning and maternal care and compromised the quality of those services that are available. Often high costs—for transport, medicines, commodities and doctors’ fees—dissuaded people from seeking services. For these reasons, the report concludes that the government has not complied with its obligation to dedicate the maximum of its available resources to progressively fulfilling the rights to sexual and reproductive health.
Looking beyond the health system, the report also identifies a range of factors that inhibit people’s autonomy to enjoy their sexual and reproductive health rights. In particular, cultural norms and taboos around sex limit women’s ability to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. Sexual and gender-based violence and harmful gender-based practices such as female genital mutilation were singled out as key areas where greater efforts are needed.
The report’s recommendations for systemic reforms and increased investments in the health system will be crucial in ensuring that the government recognizes the seriousness of its shortcomings and takes the necessary steps to remedy them.
CESR researcher Allison Corkery was a member of the inquiry team behind the report. Drawing on CESR’s monitoring work, she assisted commission staff in weaving together the personal accounts of egregious violations shared during the public hearings with different statistics and data that demonstrated the widespread and systemic dysfunctions in the health system. Combined, these stories and numbers supported the Commission’s conclusions that the government was not complying with its obligations to respect, protect and fulfill sexual and reproductive health rights.
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