- - -
Marie-Evelyne Petrus-Barry


IPPF Africa Regional Forum 2024: Navigating the ever-evolving SRHR landscape in Africa as one

​​​​​​​By Maryanne W. WAWERU

By Maryanne W. WAWERU

Nairobi, Kenya. From 3 – 6 June 2024, over 120 delegates drawn from IPPF Member Associations (MAs) and Collaborative Partners (CPs) across sub-Saharan Africa gathered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, for the 2024 IPPF Africa Regional Forum.

The Regional Forum presents an opportunity for the MAs and CPs to exchange ideas, share successes and learn from each other, with the goal of ensuring that sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are promoted and upheld across the continent.

In attendance were MA and CP Board Presidents, Chairpersons, Executive Directors, Youth Action Movement (YAM) Presidents, and representatives from the IPPF Board of Trustees.

‘Come Together Strategy’: advocating for all people

In her opening remarks, the IPPF Africa Regional Director Mrs. Marie-Evelyne Petrus-Barry emphasized the importance of the new IPPF ‘Come Together’ Strategy (2023 – 2028) as the guiding tool for the Federation’s work.

“Our goal is to deliver the best SRHR outcomes for Africa, ensuring that no one is left behind. The Strategy calls upon us to think, act, and unite as one. It helps us to effectively strategize and reach the most marginalized and vulnerable populations in our continent. This Forum is a good opportunity for us to think of ways to bring innovation to our work and renew our commitments to championing SRHR in the region,” she said.

Marie-Evelyne Petrus-Barry
Mrs. Marie-Evelyne Petrus-Barry, the IPPF Africa Regional Director, speaking at the Forum.

Further, Mrs. Petrus-Barry called on all participants to boldly raise their voices for SRHR justice in sub-Saharan Africa.

“The SRHR needs of some populations are often disregarded. These include members of the LGBTQI+ community, sex workers, refugees, drug users, pregnant teenagers, and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). As a Federation that believes in upholding the rights of all individuals, regardless of their race, gender, sex, income, where they live or standing in society, it is our responsibility to adapt our working methods to ensure they are not left behind,” she said.

Rising discriminatory laws

Mrs. Petrus-Barry also noted the challenges involved in ensuring that sexual reproductive rights are a reality for everyone.

“We are operating in an environment of resistance and growing opposition to our work. However, we will not be silenced, because what we are fighting for is a just cause,” she said.

At the Forum, participants were taken through the rising anti-rights movements in sub-Saharan Africa, which are aimed at reversing several SRHR gains. These include the draconian 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda, which is one of the harshest discriminatory laws in the world. In Ghana, Parliament in February this year unanimously passed the ‘Human Sexual Rights and Family Values’ Bill that severely infringes on and restricts LGBTQI+ rights. The Bill is awaiting the President’s assent.

In Kenya, the 2023 Family Protection Bill, which seeks to stigmatise, criminalise, and incarcerate Kenya’s sexual minorities has been submitted to Parliament, while in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a similar Bill that would criminalize LGBTQI+ people has been introduced. Similar intolerance towards LGBTQI+ rights has been expressed in Burundi.

In The Gambia, Lawmakers in March this year voted to advance a Bill reversing a law against female genital mutilation (FGM), a regressive step that threatens to jeopardize the progress made in safeguarding the rights of women and girls.

Opposition to Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and the prevalence of several restrictive reproductive health laws in sub-Saharan Africa, including those on abortion, were also discussed at the Forum.

Marie-Evelyne Petrus-Barry
Delegates follow proceedings at the Forum.

Coalition building as a successful strategy

Towards these growing concerns, speakers shared their working experiences in these hostile environments, highlighting some of the adaptations and innovations they have had to make.

Dr. Edison Omollo, the Head of Programmes at Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK), which works with a network of over 600 reproductive health service providers across the country, spoke of the organization’s inter-sectional collaborative efforts.

“We are no longer fragmenting SRHR issues but are now working with stakeholders in other sectors in our work. RHNK and its partners are leading a sector movement which brings together a diverse range of stakeholders drawn from outside the reproductive health space, such as those from the education, the economic and livelihood sectors, justice, and environment among others. This is because they all play supportive roles in the implementation of SRHR programs,” he said.

Dr. Omollo added that the movement is convened by the Ministry of Health (MoH), and with its powerful tentacles across every part of the country, all stakeholders are being sensitized on the need to incorporate and prioritize elements of sexual reproductive health in their work.

“This inter-sectoral approach is proving to be successful,” he said.

Dr. Edison Omollo of Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK)

Upholding reproductive health rights in humanitarian response

Dr. Gilbert Ngonga, the Executive Director of IPPF's Member Association in the DRC, Association pour le Bien-Être Familial – Naissances Désirables (ABEF-ND) spoke of the organization’s inclusive response in its work, including in humanitarian responses.

He said that ABEF-ND offers a wide range of SRHR services to vulnerable populations as detailed in the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) for sexual reproductive health, which is a set of life-saving activities to be implemented at the onset of every humanitarian crisis. MISP can mean the difference between life and death for people affected by disaster.

“In our humanitarian responses, we offer services to all people, including the most-at-risk populations such as teenagers and adolescent mothers, sex workers, persons with disability, people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), and LGBTQI+ members. We offer contraceptive services such as condoms, lubricants, HIV counselling and testing, maternal care, as well as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to all who need them,” he said.

Despite being in fragile settings occasioned by the emergencies, Dr. Ngonga said that ABEF-ND offers its services with utmost dignity and professionalism, guided by IPPF’s non-discriminatory policy. ABEF-ND service providers are offered continuous training on issues such as confidentiality, which are important when serving populations with a unique set of needs.

Other MAs that presented on their humanitarian responses included those of South Sudan, Chad, and Kenya.

Dr. Larissa Malula Razafindrafara, Executive Director in IPPF's MA in Madagascar.

Inspired by the presentations, Dr. Larissa Malula Razafindrafara, the Executive Director of IPPF’s MA in Madagascar, Fianakaviana Sambatras’ (FISA) highlighted the importance of MA’s strengthening their structures to facilitate better SRHR responses, more so those prone to humanitarian crisis.

“The insights shared are important in helping FISA develop strategies to effectively address the needs of the most vulnerable during emergencies. To do this, we will assess our response capacity using IPPF’s MISP tool. We will also forge local partnerships with those in the humanitarian and peace sectors, to ensure greater involvement and complementarity in our initiatives in response to a crisis,” she said.

Climate change and SRHR

Extreme weather events such as floods and droughts –many of which continue to be witnessed across sub-Saharan Africa, pose a significant threat to the health and rights of the most vulnerable, especially women and girls.

At the Forum, participants learnt about the link between climate change and SRHR. The MAs of Guinea, Ethiopia and Uganda shared their experiences with this regard.

In a panel discussion, Ms. Fatoumata Diarraye Camara, the Youth Action Movement (YAM) President in IPPF’s Member Association in Guinea, Association Guinéenne pour le Bien-être Familial (AGBEF) spoke on the experiences of AGBEF’s initiative ‘Population Health and Environment Caravan’ (POPSAE CARAVANE), a youth initiative that has recorded significant successes in creating awareness of Guinean youth on the SRHR, their environment, and climate change.

Ms. Fatoumata Diarraye Camara speaks during a panel discussion at the Forum.

“In one of the Popsae Caravane activities held recently in the Labé region, thousands of people were sensitized on the intersection between climate change and their sexual reproductive health. A total of 4,901 people received this information and respective services,” she said.

Technology for SRHR

In light of emerging trends in the SRHR space, including where health care is increasingly being delivered through digital channels such as the internet, social media, mobile phone messaging, apps, audio and visual messaging, participants discussed their various innovations in response to this.

Several MAs have developed mobile apps for SRHR, such as InfoAdoJeunes by Association Togolaise pour le Bien-Etre Familial (ATBEF). A presentation on the use of telemedicine by the Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association (LPPA), as well as the AfiaBora app by ABEF-ND were also shared.

Other thematic sessions discussed at the Regional Forum included: financing for health, the IPPF Social Enterprise initiative, IPPF governance reforms, IPPF’s Gender Policy, anti-racism and decolonization in the context of SRHR, as well as communications and partnerships building in implementing IPPF’s new Strategy.

Marie-Evelyne Petrus-Barry
YAM Presidents from Comoros, Zambia, Sierra Leone and Uganda share their experiences as young SRHR advocates during the Forum.

Youth at the heart of IPPF

Following the conclusion of the Regional Forum, the Youth Forum took centre stage from 7 – 8 June in Nairobi, Kenya. The Forum, exclusive to Youth Action Movement (YAM) Presidents discussed and evaluated the SRHR status of young people in Africa. The YAM is the youth arm of IPPF Africa Region’s volunteer body based within the MAs.

The young leaders, including Mwape Kaunda from Zambia, Moustoifa Youssouf Mroimana from Comoros, Buya Bangura from Sierra Leone, and Eliya Ayebazibwe from Uganda shared their experiences as SRHR advocates in their respective countries.

Collectively, the YAM Presidents tackled common emerging themes in their countries affecting the SRHR of adolescents and youth, such as the need for increased advocacy against harmful cultural practices such as early child marriage and FGM, teenage pregnancies and access to contraceptive information and services.

Ms. Joliane Attolou, YAM President in IPPF’s MA in Benin, Association Béninoise pour la Promotion de la Famille (ABPF), shared her enriching experience at the Forums.

Ms. Joliane Attolou speaks at the Forum.

“Each session helped me gain a wealth of information on different topics. I particularly found the session on IPPF’s reforms very enlightening, and it was encouraging to note IPPF’s commitment to young people. The session on climate change and SRHR was equally insightful, and there was a lot to learn from the Popsae Caravane initiative by Guinea. I will take all the lessons learned at these Forums to my fellow youth at ABPF, and we will implement some initiatives I have learned from here,” she said.

Follow IPPF Africa Region on FacebookTwitterInstagram and You Tube.