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Gov’t urged to pay attention to sexual reproductive health & rights

By Victoria Saffa

Country Director of Ipas Sierra Leone, Valerie Tucker, has called on the government and Ministry of Health and Sanitation to pay more attention to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) for women in Sierra Leone.

She made this statement on 28 May at the conference room of Ipas on Edwards Street, during the commemoration of International Action for Women’s Health on the theme: “30 years struggle-speak out”.

Ms. Tucker explained that each year women’s rights defenders and activists from all over the world mobilize to observe 28 May as International Day of Action for Women’s Health.

She Tucker added that women’s health advocates and communities are calling on governments to ensure a holistic, inclusive and human rights-based approach on women’s and girls’ health, and underscored the need for an SRHR in the post 2015 development agenda.

She traced the background to the day to 28th May, 1987, during the 4th International Women’s Health meeting in Costa Rica, when women’s rights activists proposed to celebrate the above dates to speak out on SRHR issues faced by women and girls all over the world.

She revealed that nearly thirty years on, activists note that the full realisation of women’s SRHR remains unaddressed, as women’s health has often been reduced to a limited understanding of maternal health, overlooking actual needs of all women in their diversities.

“As a result significant challenges persist in terms of recognising sexual rights, in addition to reproductive rights, ensuring universal access to contraceptive and safe legal abortion, as well as comprehensive sexuality education for young people, amongst other critical SHRH issues,’’ she said.

She however disclosed that after eleven years delay in reporting to the Committee against Torture, Sierra Leone submitted a report to in May 2014, and commended the government for ratifying several international instruments, including the Sexual Offences Act, 2012, the Domestic Violence Act of 2007 and the Legal Aid Act, 2012, amongst others.

However, she said that while acknowledging steps that have been taken by the state to review current restrictive legislations, the Committee was concerned that section 58 and 59 of the Offenses against the Persons Act still criminalizes abortion in all circumstances.

She said that the Committee also recommended that the state party accelerates the review process of the Offences Against the Person Act with a view to consider providing further exception to general prohibition of abortion, in particular for cases of therapeutic abortion and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.

‘’We need to hold our government accountable on their existing commitments and ensure that national policies are effectively guaranteed and support women’s choice and rights in relation to all aspects of their whole lives,’’ she stated.

Aminata Koroma, Programme and Gender Coordinator at Advocacy Movement Network (AMNET) and Gloria Bayoh from the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, were part of the delegation to Geneva that presented a shadow report to the Committee against Torture.