EALA withdraws Bill on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights

12 Feb 2021

East African Legislative Assembly, Arusha, February 12th 2021: Following numerous concerns raised by various stakeholders, EALA has today withdrawn the EAC Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) Bill, 2017, paving way for the Committee on General Purpose to re-draft the said legislation afresh.

The House approved a Report of the Committee on General Purpose, presented by the Chair, Hon. Denis Namara, putting on ice - the said legislation, until such time, a fresh Bill that incorporates various views and concerns of stakeholders, is re-drafted.

Hon. Namara informed the House of a number of identified gaps in the envisaged Bill, introduced in the House by former Member, Hon Dr Odette Nyiramilimo (during the tenure of the 3rd Assembly). The Bill was read for the first time (First Reading) on 28th January 2017 and accordingly, referred to the Committee on General Purpose of the 3rd Assembly.

  1. the Committee on General Purpose (of the 3rd Assembly) carried out public hearings on the Bill on February 22nd - 28th, 2017, the tenure of the Third Assembly came to an end before the process of the Second and Third Readings of the Bill. In effect, upon its inauguration, the Fourth Assembly passed a resolution to, among others, save, retain and continue with the same Bill. Given that Hon. Dr. Odette Nyiramilimo had (by then), ceased being a Member of the Assembly, the Committee on General Purpose, then took it up as a Committee Bill.

In exercising its legislative mandate, the Committee on General Purpose held a stakeholders’ workshop in Bujumbura, Burundi, on January 23rd to 28th, 2020, to review the Bill.

Hon. Namara informed the Assembly that stakeholders had identified a number of areas of contestation as the Bill was before them for consideration. Principally, the Chair said, the language contained in the Bill, did not align with the domestic laws of Partner States, as well as with other international instruments that include; the Maputo Protocol and the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). Further on, Hon Namara informed the Assembly, the said Bill’s content, included what was/is deemed to be varying understanding of the term ‘abortion services’ in the EAC region.

“The grounds for access to safe abortion vary in different countries in the EAC,” Hon. Namara said.

“The reproductive health rights of adolescents and young people beyond just HIV protection is absent. At the same time, male involvement in Sexual Reproductive Health Rights, is completely absent from the Bill,” the legislator said.

“Further on, the Bill does not provide for the Sexual and Reproductive health rights for the elderly, menstrual hygiene for young girls, E-Health (health professionals, access to technology), and specialization,” Hon. Namara added.

Other gaps include a missing link to culture and religion. It was noted that more than 80% of Africa’s population espouse to some form of religion – but that their interpretation of issues on matters like abortion, family planning, fertility differ. The matter, Hon. Namara added, thus requires more engagement with regards to interpretation of above issues.

On culture, Hon. Namara noted the Bill in its current format, provides for surrogacy, assisted reproduction and In- Vitro Fertilization (IVF), which are against some traditions of some people in the EAC Partner States. In addition, Hon. Namara informed the House of a missing link for elderly persons beyond the age of 55 years in the Bill.

“Ensuring availability of Sexual and Reproductive Health services for men and women beyond 55 years, is very crucial for women in menopause, Prostate issues for men, sexual dysfunctions, reproductive organ cancer (testicular, ovarian, breast among others). Therefore, all men and Women from the ages 12 to 55 should be considered,” Hon. Namara added.

The Bill is premised on Article 118 of the Treaty for the Establishment of East African Community, which provides for co-operation in health and promoting the management of health delivery systems. The move to withdraw the Bill received support on the floor.

Hon. Kennedy Mukulia said it was necessary and vital for gaps in the Bill to be addressed and re-drafted afresh, given various developments that have already taken place. He termed the issues considered by the Committee on General Purpose as pertinent to human society and towards aligning with the Universal Health coverage initiatives in the Partner States.

Hon. Christopher Nduwayo said the Bill in its current form, was controversial especially in context to religion, traditional and cultural views. “It may be necessary to also involve the initial mover of the Bill – for all inclusivity,” he said.

Hon. Oda Gasinzigwa thanked the mover, Hon Dr Odette Nyiramilimo, for initiating the Bill saying matters of sexual and reproductive health remained crucial. The Member sought clarification as to why the Committee opted to withdraw the said Bill, as opposed to suggesting the parallel amendments during the time set for reconsideration.

On her part, Hon. Josephine Lemoyan said the critical parts of reproductive health should be given due attention. “The discussion on sexuality though considered taboo, need to be considered. There are many areas especially among the elderly – which the Bill should fully consider,” she said.

Hon. Mary Mugyenyi sought advice on the timelines before the Bill is reintroduced, saying the subject matter was important to the people of East Africa.

Hon Abdikadir Aden advised the Committee of the various and lengthy discussions previously held and said it may be necessary to remove the contentious areas.

“The rest of the good parts of the Bill may be retained,” said Hon. Aden.

Others who supported the withdrawal of the Bill were Hon. Dr. Pierre Celestin Rwigema, Hon Pamela Massaay, Hon Francoise Umuwukiza, Hon. Rose Akol.