Nairobi, Kenya: 12 October 2023 – The International Planned Parenthood Federation Africa Region (IPPFAR) notes with concern an internal memo sent by the Zambian Ministry of Health to all provincial health directors and cooperating partners dated 21 September 2023, which advises against the use of the term “sexual and reproductive health and rights” and to instead refer to “reproductive health and rights” only.
The Zambian Ministry of Health’s rationale for the removal of the terms “sexual health and rights” is that “the inclusion of the words “sexual” and “rights” in the same phrase is the inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Qveer (sic) rights” (MoH Zambia, 2023). This is correct, as “sexual rights are constituted by a set of entitlements related to the sexuality of all persons regardless of their gender, gender identity and/or expression, that emanate from the rights to freedom, equality, privacy, autonomy, integrity and dignity of all people” (IPPF, 2016) – and like all rights, sexual rights are interconnected, indivisible, and applicable to all.
“Removing reference to sexual health and rights has real-world implications for people, especially women, and girls, including an entrenchment of patriarchal norms and a framing of people's bodies as useful for reproductive purposes only. This has far-reaching negative implications that are demonstrated by an increase in female genital mutilation and child marriage, and forced treatments, including sterilisation, virginity examinations, and abortions. Removal of sexual rights could also lead to the subjecting of women’s access to sexual health services to external approval, for example from a husband or male relative.”, said Marie-Evelyne Petrus-Barry, IPPF Africa Regional Director.
The inclusion of the term “sexual health and rights” protects the rights of women and girls to consent to sexual activity and treatments, and to access information that allows them to make informed decisions about their sexual health. In addition to offering equality for women in freely deciding the spacing of their children, sexual rights also protect the right to bodily autonomy and to make informed decisions about one’s body.
Furthermore, sexual health and rights are closely associated with the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. Removal of these terms could negatively affect the provision of services to, and rights of people living positively and needing access to treatment and other forms of support services.
Marie-Evelyne Petrus-Barry added that: “IPPF Africa echoes the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission report (2018), sexual health and rights are not just words, behind them are real people; especially women and girls who need to access services that aim to provide a state of complete physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being in relation to sexuality. These services are protected by sexual rights that protect all people’s rights to fulfill and express their sexuality and enjoy sexual health free from coercion.”
IPPFAR reiterates that the Government of Zambia is party to several commitments in which sexual and reproductive health and rights are central – including the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the African Charter on People’s and Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Furthermore, as Lusaka will host the AU/UNECA ICPD+30 Africa Region Consultation in November 2023, it is critical to recall that the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) affirmed that Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights are Human Rights. If we are to achieve these commitments 30 years later, it is critical that Zambia recommits to the attainment of sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.
For further information or to request an interview, please contact:
-Mahmoud GARGA, Lead Specialist - Strategic Communication, Media Relations and Digital Campaigning, IPPF Africa Regional Office (IPPFARO) – email: [email protected] / Tel: +254 704 626 920
ABOUT IPPF AFRICA REGION (IPPFAR)
The International Planned Parenthood Federation Africa Region (IPPFAR) is one of the leading sexual and reproductive health (SRH) service delivery organization in Africa, and a leading sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) advocacy voice in the region. Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, the overarching goal of IPPFAR is to increase access to SRHR services to the most vulnerable youth, men and women in sub-Saharan Africa.
Supported by thousands of volunteers, IPPFAR tackles the continent’s growing SRHR challenges through a network of Member Associations (MAs) in 40 countries. We do this by developing our MAs into efficient entities with the capacity to deliver and sustain high quality, youth focused and gender sensitive services. We work with Governments, the African Union, Regional Economic Commissions, the Pan-African Parliament, United Nations bodies among others to expand political and financial commitments to sexual and reproductive health and rights in Africa.