By Mary Njeri
An article which recently appears in the local dailies that a US based organisation is planning to start a project in Kenya which aims at targeting women who are HIV positive not to give birth and proposed to pay them US$ 40 is a blatant abuse of women’s reproductive rights.
Looking at the project from the context of reproductive health and rights, there is a feeling that women are being targeted because of their reproductive role which is limited to their biological function by making them not to give birth anymore and this is equated with money. There is also this notion that with only US$ 40, a woman can be lured not to give birth.
To some women especially those who are poor, such kind of money might be welcome because they might see it in short term measures that it might meet their immediate needs.
It is unfortunate that such things are coming up at a time when women\’s, health and human rights organizations around the world marked "African Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights Day last month and what came out clearly is that over the years, women and their bodies have become the battleground of international development policies.
And that services that are being provided normally have little or no considerations of women’s needs, their wishes or their circumstances.
To make matters worse, women who are HIV positive apart from being discriminated against majority of them continue to experience violence.
A study done by ActionAid International-Kenya indicates that the HIV&AIDS Act outlines various legal provisions for the prevention and treatment of the disease and more importantly safeguarding of the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) related rights. In many ways the Act responds to current issues of how to ensure confidentiality of HIV test results; prevention of discrimination of the rights of PLWHA for example in matters of education and employment.
And if the government can allow the Project Prevention to operate in Kenya it will be going against its own laws which safeguard the rights of the PLWHA and women included.
Systematic stigmatization of women who have HIV/AIDS, including targeted instances of forced sterilization and coercive abortions, particularly in the context of Namibia and now maybe closer home, Kenya is slowly being used to discriminate against women.
The US organization is also being quoted by the Medical News-UK as being known for offering women who use drugs financial compensation to be sterilized or accept long-term contraception and soon is expected to expand its work to Kenya.
While the cases of sterilized women may be yet to be revealed, the concept of Project Prevention undermines health and well being of women and their unborn children. This goes against the principles of regional and international instruments we have ratified as a State and also the new constitution under the Bill of Rights and also in the case of The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the rights of women in Africa (ACHPR) Article 14 on Health and Reproductive Health Rights explicitly states that women have the right to control their own fertility.
As women human rights activists, we should collectively say no to this project before it takes root in Kenya. We should immediately prioritize addressing coercive and forced sterilization of women living with HIV/AIDS, raise our voices and condemn such atrocity in the spirit of implementing the main theme of the African Women\’s Decade "Grassroots approach to gender equality and women\’s empowerment". Empowering of the women at the grassroots would lead to more informed consent.
Offering USD 40 for an IUD is a form of mediocrity. This is derogatory and is an infringement of their human rights and bodily integrity.
Ms Njeri is the Executive Director of Coalition on Violence Against Women in Kenya COVAW(K)