Save 20% off! Join our newsletter and get 20% off right away!

Rethinking sexual and reproductive health rights in the context of climate change

By the mere fact that the pro-life and anti-abortion billboards were concentrated in Nairobi County, the capital city with a high rate of educated individuals, it would have been easier to buy the pro-adoption argument. Yet, it is this cynical deployment of “pro-adoption” to legitimize the shaming of abortion that blurs the substantive advancement of women’s rights and their reproductive health rights.[1] Configuring urban women who seek abortion services as immoral or as murderers, and condemning abortion as evidence of a scourge that must be rooted out, instead of acknowledging it as a reproductive right whose access should be legitimized and expanded, unfairly limits the provision and accessibility of sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHRs). Given that most women in Kenya live in rural areas where they are the most afflicted by socioeconomic hardships that are compounded by vagaries of nature like climate change, intolerance of abortion is not a humanitarian campaign to rescue the unborn children or expand adoption services. Instead, it is a cover for the repression of sexual reproductive health rights and it inadvertently limits the use of intersectionality to understand and address the vulnerability of women in the face of climate change as they seek these rights.

This article does not discuss the legitimacy of abortion; however, it is crucial to consider some of the challenges in the face of abortion rights. Although the anti-abortion campaign by Sozo Church was designed as a pro-life stance to encourage adoption, its shaming approach points out to the complicity of the society and lack of government involvement around the delegitimisation of social norms that demonize women’s sexual and reproductive health rights in Kenya and Africa. In fact, this campaign came at a time when Kenya was considering a bill introducing sexual and reproductive health education in its schools’ curriculum. In turn, as activists protested against this shaming campaign, their efforts in pushing for the introduction of a sexual and reproductive health curriculum waned. Thus, it is sad that general SRHRs and SRHR education remains an afterthought in Kenya and most African nations. Arguments like involvement of the father or other stakeholders like family in making abortion choices might be used to oppose abortion, but all these arguments boil down to oppression of women and their bodies. It is even sad that some countries like Rwanda jail civil rights activists involved in human rights.

Thus, the specific vulnerability African women and adolescent girls face as they seek their sexual and reproductive health rights cannot be grasped by limiting their reproductive rights to abortion rights exclusively. Instead, the shaming through media ad campaigns as seen in Nairobi can conveniently lead to the overlooking of other gendered female experiences that make it difficult for women to enjoy their reproductive rights. In fact, governments in places like Limpopo take down posters and banners offering reproductive health rights, effectively denying women information on how they can access reproductive rights. The duo of government and faith-based organization is also to blame for the implied criminalization of safe abortion education.[2] For example, Kenya’s government banned safe abortion trainings across the country while in West Africa, Niger closed down Marie Stopes, an International organization providing accessible reproductive health services across Europe and Africa.

Gender and Climate change context

Recent reports have emerged of a booming evil where women and young girls in rural areas and urban slums across the continent trade their bodies with water vendors for sex.[3] The solicitation for sex when seeking water overlaps with poverty to the extent that most females who are compelled into sex for water or food are also seeking money for sanitary towels.[4]

While it is evident that there are gendered implications of climate change, a natural question is whether intersectionality can help establish a direct or causal link between climate change and sexual reproductive health rights. Intersectionality as advanced by post-colonial feminists like Patricia Hill[5] and Kimberlee Crenshaw is opposed to the artificial separation of people from their experiences.[6] In the crossroads example of Crenshaw, a person on traffic crossroads is subject to different experiences associated with their multiple backgrounds and these multiple experiences intersect and compound a person’s precarious situation; in that, the person on the intersection is hit by traffic from different roads.[7] An ambulance assuming such a person was only hit by traffic from one direction would be of little help to the person.[8] Most studies on climate change and SRHRs have focused on how climate change factors in the Global South such as water scarcity and global warming contribute to child mortality[9]but few focus on how climate change has played a critical role in the regression of other reproductive rights other than child mortality.

How does climate change mitigation fit with promotion of SRHRs? In itself, climate change mitigation and adaptation ought to preserve or expand access to natural resources like water or land. Most rural women across the continent lead resource-dependent lives and as such, climate change adaptation would enhance their lives by reducing their vulnerability to abusive power dynamics as they try to access contested or scarce resources. Additionally, it can be argued that empowering women in under resourced communities cushions them against climate change impacts on their reproductive rights.[10] For instance, climate change is predicted to lower fertility in women and increase pregnancy complications like heightened risk of hypertension and comorbid conditions like cardiac conditions that might affect the offspring.[11] At the same time, equitable access to SRHRs improves general individual and community health, thus increasing the resilience of the population to climate change.[12] To this end, SRHRs support climate change mitigation through interventions like family planning, safe abortion practices, and SRHR education that reduce population growth. In turn, this reduces the population that directly depends on natural resources and lowers carbon emissions.

Image source: https://www.ippf.org/sites/default/files/message02A_static_image_ENG.jpg

Despite the value of intersectional analysis, some of the intersectional experiences that comprise the lived realities of a population might be overlooked or remain partly addressed because, though illegal, they have been socially legitimized by different relational power dynamics. For example, it is illegal to administer Female Genital Mutilation as it violates reproductive health rights; however, cultural precepts in some communities promote the vice. Climate change, thus contributes to the violation of women’s SRHRs and pushes others to unwillingly participate in the further violation of these rights. What this means is that any long-term solutions have to acknowledge the nuanced lives of women and the environmental conditioning for these solutions. Put differently, technical solution like amending the law to legitimize abortion services or expanding access to different SRHRs like sexual and reproductive education will not exclusively and instantly end women’s vulnerability.

Conclusion

Outside government’s participation in restricting reproductive rights advocacy, it is important to use intersectionality to understand the shrinking landscape of women’s reproductive rights. Notably, the civic movements have tended to concentrate on topical issues like climate change factors such as water security without looking at how climate risks are entwined with factors such as poverty that push women’s reluctant involvement in the violation or degradation of their sexual and reproductive health rights. Overall, in the face of climate change, future studies and advocacy efforts should deploy intersectional analysis in their advocacy to promote Sexual Reproductive Health Rights in Africa.

Christabel M. Eboso is an Advocate of the High of Kenya, currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Kent, Canterbury; a fellow at the Institute of Global Policy and Law, Harvard Law School, class of 2023 and a Tutorial Fellow at the University of Embu.


[1] https://religionnews.com/2019/05/09/anti-abortion-billboards-come-down-in-kenya-but-the-debate-over-legalization-continues/

[2] Brooks N, Bendavid E, Miller G. USA aid policy and induced abortion in sub-Saharan Africa: an analysis of the Mexico City policy. Lancet Global Health. 2019.

[3] https://web.facebook.com/watch/?v=500255752062737

[4] Ibid.

[5] Collins, P. H. (2000). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge.

[6] Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Chersich, M. F. (2019). Will global warming undo the hard-won gains of prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV? South African Medical Journal. 109(5), 287-288. doi: 10.7196/SAMJ.2019.v109i5.13988.

[10] https://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2022/10/005.html

[11] Ibid.

[12] https://www.unesco.org/en/articles/water-gender-and-climate-better-data-better-adaptation-strategies

Avatar
Guest author The Platform Magazine