Dr. Tony Ojukwu, the Executive Secretary National Human Right Commission (NHRC), in this interview with ISABEST OMOREGBEJI speaks on the role of Networking in facilitating the implementation of existing laws meant to Protect Sexual Reproductive Health Rights in Nigeria.
Can you give us a brief background on Sexual Reproductive Health Rights in Nigeria?
The issue of women’s reproductive rights has been the subject of continuous controversy and societal debate in many countries around the world. Notably, Sexual and Reproductive health concerns are key components of rights to health and are mutually related. SRHR is rooted in the concept of Reproductive Health, which first gained global attention at the United Nations international Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) at Cairo, Egypt in 1994, through subsequent platforms like the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing Platform) and the Maputo Protocol toward guaranteeing comprehensive rights to women including the right to take part in the political processes, to social and political equality with men, improved autonomy in their reproductive health decisions and an end to female genital mutilation.
What does Sexual Reproductive Health Rights Entails?
It entails the highest attainable standard of physical, mental and social wellbeing of all persons and not merely the absence of disease or disorder of the reproductive process. This acknowledges that there are mental, physical and social perspectives of sexual and reproductive Health. This requires positive and respectful approach to sexual relationships, as well as the possibilities of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.
What makes up the Sexual and Reproductive Rights?
According to the ICPD conference of 1994, reproductive rights encompasses rights of couples and individuals to: decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to have the means to do so includes the rights to appropriate health care services and facilities to help women go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and covers a range of methods, techniques and services that contributes to reproductive health and well-being by preventing and solving reproductive health problems and broadly covers services like family planning, counseling, information, education, communication, antenatal services, safe delivery, postnatal care, infant and women’s healthcare, sexually transmitted diseases (including management of HIV & AIDS), breast cancer, cancer of the reproductive system (for example ovarian cancer) and other reproductive conditions, as well as active discouragement of harmful cultural practices like female genital mutilation. Sexual and reproductive health concerns also include death and disability related to pregnancy, abortion as well as childbirth, addressing these concerns is important for realization of human rights. Sexual and reproductive health is related to multiple human rights, including the right to life, the right to be free from torture, the right to health, the right to privacy, the right to education, and the prohibition of discrimination. Since all rights are equal and interconnected and indivisible, this means that government has obligations to respect, protect and fulfill rights related to sexual and reproductive health of all persons.
Which of the Sexes bears the Greater Burden of SRHR in Nigeria?
Although Sexual and reproductive rights apply to both men and women, the greater burden is borne by the women who are often more adversely affected- in the course of pregnancy, delivery, and childcare necessitating improved programming to enhance sexual and reproductive health of women and girls, especially in relation to promotion and protection of related rights and reproductive care services.
How has the Journey been so far, since the Cairo and Maputo Conference of 94 and 95 in facilitating the implementation Laws that are geared towards SRHR protection?
Several stakeholders, local and international have been working for the domestication of the Maputo protocol and the implementation of the program of action enunciated by the ICPD conference, but it is obvious that no single stakeholder can achieve the desired results working alone. Therefore organizations and Networks working on Reproductive justice in Nigeria must work together and align efforts to overturn restrictive reproductive health laws and practices, defend survivors, create awareness and remove procedural barriers to reduce the prevalence of violations related to sexual and reproductive rights.
What Legal Frameworks are there to Protect Reproductive Rights in Nigeria?
We have Section 6 (a) of the national Human Right Commission Act 1995 (as amended), The Patient’s Bill of Rights, The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act 2015 (VAPP); Section 13, 17,21,22 & 31 of the Child rights Act 2003; and section 415 (1-4) of the administration of criminal justice Act (ACJA) 2015.
How can Nigeria gain meaningful grounds in SRHR protection?
For us to do this scaling up human rights protection in this area is imperative, hence I commend the initiative to build justice network in this critical area of our social existence. This initiative underscores the role of civil society in advancing human rights.
What have you been doing to contain the growing Issues of Rape and Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria?
Our Offices in Abuja and across the 36 states have been engaging at various points with traditional heads around issues of FGM and to find ways around the abusive cultural practices. We are increasingly seeing some changes as per decrease in the level of prevalence, although we are not where we hope to be yet, but surely we are not where we use to be. On the issue of Rape, we are working in response to public outrage and horror on account of rape and other violent crimes against women and girls leading to the death of some of the victims. The commission in partnership with Ministry of women Affairs, the Nigerian Police and other Relevant MDAs, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and CSOs embarked on one week long activism from 15th – 19th June, 2020 with the theme Equality and Dignity for Nigerian Women, Join the Fight Against Rape and SGBV. As you can see, we are today partnering with Lawyers Alert to build a dependable network of lawyers, media persons and CSOs to facilitate this very course of SRHR in Nigeria.
What are the challenges hindering the enjoyment of SRHR in Nigerian women?
Some of the challenges include: violation or abuse of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights- often due to deeply engrained beliefs and societal values, culture and religion pertaining to women’s sexuality; the patriarchal concept of women role in the family often based on their ability to reproduce; child/forced marriage; repeated pregnancies spaced too closely together and often as a result of efforts to produce male offspring in preference for sons; Men finds it difficult to discuss their infertility issues and blaming the problem on the women who are made to suffer all form of violations; lack of awareness; poor quality services or denial; subjecting women’s access to services to third party authorization and female genital mutilation.
How can we keep up with the implementation of SRHR Laws in Nigeria?
Obviously through building platforms and partnerships like the one just demonstrated by Lawyers Alert to network with the NHRC, Strategic Impact litigators, the media and CSOs to expand the scope and understanding of reproductive rights as well as building effective networks for litigating reproductive justice and rights issues are key. This is achievable through adoption of a rights based approach in relation to reproductive processes including healthcare. The right to protection from sexual offences is necessary and integral part of sexual and reproductive health rights. The initiative for establishing of a network to enhance access to remedy in relation to Sexual and reproductive health rights is therefore an appropriate intervention to a rising social problem.
What is your parting shot to all those who may have suffered this kinds of Violations?
They is hope and they is green light at the end of the tunnel, now they have a means they can get assistance they could reach out to NHRC or reach out to dependable networks like Lawyers Alert to get assistance to deal with SRHR issues. Thank you.
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