Push for SRHR policies, legal frameworks to protect the vulnerable amid COVID-19

Push for SRHR policies, legal frameworks to protect the vulnerable amid COVID-19

Initially, the awareness on women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) was more focused on the distribution of sanitary towels to young women and girls from less disadvantaged backgrounds.

This informed many gaps of knowledge and information in breaking the barriers, myths and taboos around menstrual hygiene.

From the situational analysis, the Ministry of Health developed the Kenya Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) Policy 2019-2030 that seeks to create awareness of rights-based approach through devolution of sanitation services across the 47 counties.

The approach is aimed at achieving the Kenya Vision 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Neville Okwaro, a Menstrual Health and Hygiene champion, said menstruation limits women and girls’ on their rights to access water, education, sanitation and a good working environment.

“Myths, taboos and stigma are some of the biggest barriers to a safe and hygienic environment for women and girls and proper disposal of menstrual waste. The implementation of the MHM Policy will break these barriers through simplified information tools that incorporate all; women, girls, men and boys in the sensitization on menstruation matters,” said Okwaro.

He was speaking during a virtual stakeholders’ forum dubbed Policy and Legal framework in the sexual and reproductive health and rights.

On her part, FIDA-Kenya Deputy Executive Director Wanjiru Kamanda expressed her concerns over rising cases in Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) stating that most SGBV survivors do not seek immediate help for fear of stigmatization or lack of information on how to go about seeking justice.

“At FIDA-Kenya, we offer pro bono legal aid especially to survivors from less disadvantaged backgrounds. Before then, the survivors’ first step is to seek immediate medical care after which they report to the nearest police station and acquire an Occurrence Book (OB) number. The survivors will then call FIDA-Kenya’s toll free number 0800 720501. This is one step to access to justice,” Kamanda advised.

Ms. Kamanda added that the chiefs and police are State’s representatives to ensure that children are protected from sexual abuse.

The State has a duty to ensure the enactment of the Reproductive Health Bill that provides information on reproductive health for adolescents. This will counter the rising cases of teenage pregnancies across the country especially during COVID- 19.

On the steps towards seeking justice, Dr. Myrna Kalsi, a Forensic Science specialist said: “Once a SGBV survivor or victim and perpetrator have interacted, the care circumstances and proper management of forensic evidence are critical for access to justice.”

Gloria Biwott, an advocate of the High Court and a New Faces and New Voices champion,  echoed the need for passing of the Sexual Offenses Amendment Bill aimed at ensuring the involvement of the National and County Governments in promoting public awareness on sexual offenses through a nationwide education campaign.

“The enactment will be a good starting point to bring the perpetrators to book and the victims gain access to justice,” said Biwott.

The panelists at the webinar unanimously agreed that there is need for a multi-sectoral approach to reawaken the outlined sexual and reproductive health and rights policies to ensure their implementation.

Janet Mbugua, the Founder of Inua Dada who moderated the webinar said: “This can only be achieved through collaborative efforts from the Government, Community Based Organizations and integrating Menstrual Health Management into Gender-related programs such as Female Genital Mutilation and Beyond Zero Campaigns aimed at creating safe spaces and reducing cases of morbidity and mortality. The Sexual Offences Amendment bill proposes to create special units in the police force to handle sexual offense cases.”

Facilitated by New Faces New Voices Kenya, the third edition of the webinar was part of an ongoing online series aimed at fueling action towards the achievement of SRHR agendas in conjunction with Graca Machel Trust, Global Fund for Women and United Nations Population Fund.

The first forum focused on Current Trends in the SRHR while the second series brought in various experts in the SRHR industry to discuss the impact of COVID- 19 in SRHR.

The program aims at creating targeted solutions towards reproductive healthcare systems especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.