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Reflections on the Regional Webinar on Decolonising Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)

By Maurice Kabazzi


Do you find the decolonization of SRHR a necessary tool for reproductive justice? Going regional with an African-centered approach-there is a need for a normative approach to ensure that Africans are put at the center of law and policy-making as it applies to SRHR.

My perceptions of Decoloniality and the SRHR project have changed, thanks to Afya na Haki (Ahaki) which took on the mantle of providing a regional webinar specific to conversations on SRHR decolonization. Ahaki developed a paper titled, ‘Decolonizing Sexual Reproductive Health and Human Rights: Laying Foundation for an African Centered Approach, which was led by Prof. Charles Ngwena.

Before my quest for decolonization was inspired at Ahaki, my work trip to Dakar enabled me to interact with same-minded activists and advocates on SRHR in Francophone Africa. I reflected on the mixed legal systems that have divided French-speaking West Africa from the Anglophone countries. The current legal systems are colonial and need a critical transformation in their application in SRHR.

Prof Charles Ngwena remarked that: ‘When we think about decolonization imported as it is, as we look to the past, we should also look at the present because societies are always in a state of transformation’. That has changed a lot my thinking about the decolonization of SRHR. To understand the interplay between language and African experiences with SRHR, I made a quest to immerse myself in the subject of decolonization for Francophone and Anglophone Africa.

I remember Alan Maleche of KELIN asked: Do you know what SRHR entails? He reflected that ‘when it comes to sexuality in SRHR, there are aspects of freedom from abuse yet we tend to focus on access to medicines, health and forget issues of sexual violence, Female Genital Mutilation, sterilization, abortion, infertility’. Dr Mildred Mushunje shared what SRHR encompasses, that is: ‘the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of a human being in all aspect of sexuality and reproductive health’. SRHR and decolonization are quite broad but here are the key lessons in brief from the regional webinar:

Professor stressed the need for Africans to have a consciousness about our colonial past but also our colonial present and to see how the past and present are entangled in the ways that impact Africans as they try to protect, fulfill and realize their SRHR.Rommy Mom of Lawyers Alert reflected on African community participation.  He retorted: ‘Are the voices captured democratically if we make these laws and policies for Africans? When we speak to issues of safe abortion, are we speaking to ourselves?

Notably, there is a need to embrace the systems of African democratic governance and values of positive African culture, diversity, inclusive equality and human rights imported as they are to suit the specific problems of SRHR on the continent. ‘Decolonization is not something we do outside our democratic governance. Assuming we have consented to that democratic governance, we are saying that decolonization does not stand outside those democratic processes. We should guard against a fundamentalist approach to decolonization.


Reflect and use what we have for decoloniality

We are tasked to study the health care law and policy, national laws, bilateral agreements and global agreements, searching for something that decolonization can tell us about promoting SRHR of Africans. We are tasked to reimagine a decolonial theory useful in thinking about access to safe abortion. This is because the historical development of domestic law and international law, which is the origin of the regulation of abortion, is steeped in coloniality. These were laws that were imported and the ecclesiastical rationale of abortion laws sought to protect the spiritualities and religiosities of the Global North. It cannot be contested these laws have a colonial origin, the same extends to sexual minorities and gender identities. There is a fingerprint of coloniality in the laws in the construction of a normative gender. This is evident in the high politicization of SRHR in Africa. Dr Maria Nassali observed that ‘SRHR affects women more disproportionately than men. SRHR is highly politicised.  Its politicization continues in terms of controlling women’s choices, sexuality and bodily autonomy. The dimension of unequal power is important.

Tackling religiosity and colonial ideologies on SRHR

Decolonization requires Africans to be revolutionary to deal with concepts such as religious fundamentalism and capitalism etc because some individuals don’t want anything that challenges the status quo. Dr Maria Nassali cautioned that there are people who are comfortable and not willing to challenge the status (inequality). It is not only the Global North that decolonizing will be dealing with. There are concepts of capitalism and religious fundamentalism which decolonization must deal with.

From Rights to Needs

Review the SRHR language. Decolonising SRHR involves pushing forward the right language that addresses the context and needs with limited discrepancies which is considered foreign and not relevant to African culture. We understand so much about the needs language and not the rights language. The SRHR language has to take into consideration the context of Africa. The powerful countries can mobilize for opposition to the language that is not necessarily Africentric but can influence the use of language to be used on Africa. Review of SRHR laws and policies is hard because of the language.

Focus on the victim.

 It is important to note that reproductive health is important for men and women. It is also critical for women because they carry the larger burden. There is a need to reconceptualize the litigation style of SRHR that is restorative. The lawyers are attuned to adversarial litigation of SRHR but they will need to embrace the concept of restorative and retributive justice.  Dr. Maria borrows from the Victim’s Declaration, that restorative justice approaches have been used to resolve conflicts and restore peace in the community. The victim, the accused and the community have a role in uniting social bonds and to prevent future victimization. Justice in SRHR manifests itself in three levels: the individual level (acknowledging the wrong and wrongdoing of personal harm, the Local level (putting resources required for holistic healing of the victim and society) and society gets to prevent the violation of human rights from occurring.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-mxXgnFhMk video published on Afya na Haki’s YouTube channel, December 15th 2022

About the author:

Kabazzi Maurice is a fellow under Regionalism at Afya na Haki Institute. He is a speaker of French and English. He is a policy and legal researcher on African issues of Development and Law, Social justice in health and SRHR. He read law at Makerere University where he served in the Clinical Legal Education program.

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