Kenya is having another go at passing a reproductive rights bill

Kenya’s Senate is considering a reproductive healthcare bill, which seeks to address reproductive health gaps. This is the second time the bill has come before the senate. It has, once again, drawn fire from religious groups, some politicians and civil society lobbies opposed to its proposals. Anthony Ajayi and Meggie Mwoka unpack the bill and the lessons from previous failed attempts.


By Anthony Idowu Ajayi & Meggie Mwoka


The Conversation (12.07.2020) – – Kenyan women and girls face an array of reproductive health risks that can be addressed by comprehensive reproductive health care services. These include sexually transmitted infections, HIV, unsafe abortion and unplanned pregnancies.


Each year, 6,300 women die during pregnancy or childbirth in Kenya. Unsafe abortion contributes close to 17% of maternal deaths in Kenya.


The bill provides a framework governing access to family planning, safe motherhood, termination of pregnancy, reproductive health of adolescents and assisted reproduction.


It makes clear that every person has the right to access reproductive health services. It also stipulates that every health care provider is obliged to provide family planning information and services to women who need them.


There is also a provision in the bill directing the national and county government to provide free antenatal care, delivery care and postnatal care for women and girls in Kenya.


In addition, the bill sets conditions under which a woman can seek abortion services. These include when there is an emergency, when the pregnancy would endanger the life or health of the mother and where there is a risk that the foetus would suffer from a severe physical or mental abnormality. It is worth noting that the bill allows for conscientious objection on the part of health providers to perform an abortion as long as they refer the patients to a willing provider. This doesn’t apply in the case of an emergency.


The bill also has provisions ensuring access to adolescent-friendly reproductive health services, but requiring parental consent.


Lastly, the bill also covers the issue of assisted reproduction services to address infertility. The sector is currently unregulated. The proposed bill sets out rules for providers as well as the rights of donors, surrogate mothers and patients.


Reproductive health has been enacted into law in different ways across the continent. A number of countries have similarly opted for a stand-alone law. They include Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Rwanda. But in many, various aspects of reproductive health are covered in a range of health-related bills, and sometimes in the constitutions of countries.


All countries in Africa have laws regulating the termination of pregnancy. Abortion is not permitted for any reason in seven out of 54. The rest permit abortion under certain circumstances ranging from; to save the woman’s life, to preserve health, on broad social or economic grounds, and/or on request with variations on gestational age.

What are the main controversies around the current bill?


There are three main points of contention.


The first is termination of pregnancy. Opponents include religious leaders and civil society lobby groups.


There are three lines of argument against it.


The first is the assertion that the constitution of Kenya forbids abortion. This is in fact incorrect. The proposed bill simply reaffirms the legal basis for access to safe abortion, which is already in the Kenya Constitution.


The second area of contention around termination is that those who oppose the bill crudely characterise it as extending the legalisation beyond what’s in the constitution.


And finally, opponents also erroneously allege that the bill mandates all medical providers to perform abortions irrespective of their religious beliefs or values. The bill in fact allows for conscientious objection.


The second controversial aspect of the bill is on sexuality education for adolescents. It provides for vocational training, mentorship programmes, spiritual and moral guidance, and counselling on abstinence, consequences of unsafe abortion, HIV and substance use. It also mandates the government to integrate age-appropriate information on reproductive health into the education syllabus.


From the look of it, this aspect of the bill has been watered down. For example, it’s more abstinence focused than the earlier version. This flies in the face of research findings that this approach denies adolescents critical information to reduce their risk of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.


Third is the controversy over the treatment of infertility. Opponents of the bill are against legalisation of surrogacy and “test-tube” babies, with the argument that it’s an unnatural process.

Why have previous attempts to pass such a bill failed?


This is the second attempt in six years to guarantee reproductive rights in law. The first bill was introduced in 2014.


The failure was due to a variety of reasons. These included a lack of public awareness and political will, and misinformation by well-organised and coordinated opposition groups.


Most Kenyans were unaware of the scientific basis for the bill. They were also unaware of the magnitude and cost of unsafe abortion and maternal deaths. Also the case was not persuasively made that access to quality and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services is in everybody’s best interests.


This enabled local and foreign opponents to put out arguments not based on evidence. An example of misleading narratives is the claim that comprehensive sexuality education promotes high-risk sexual behaviour. This is contrary to scientific evidence which shows it delays initiation of sexual intercourse and reduces risk-taking, thus decreasing the number of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.


Public apathy coupled with misinformation undermined the political will to push the bill through. While there were some politicians willing to champion the cause of women and girls, the vast majority were quick to withdraw their support in the face of the orchestrated public outcry.


Who suffers if the bill is shelved again or is watered down?


We know from evidence in demographic surveys and literature that socially, geographically and economically disadvantaged women and girls have worse reproductive health outcomes. They are least likely to access lifesaving reproductive health services and more likely to have early, unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and die as a result of pregnancy.


Additionally, adolescents continue to suffer disproportionately from poor sexual reproductive health outcomes, as indicated by the high rates of teenage pregnancies and HIV infection.


HIV and pregnancy are the leading causes of deaths among adolescents and young women aged 15-24 years in Kenya. Over half of the 46,000 new HIV infections in 2018 occurred among adolescents and young people. Over 378,397 teenage pregnancies were recorded between July 2016 and June 2017 and 28,932 of these pregnancies occurred among girls aged 10-14.


The perception of adolescents as lacking political power often makes politicians reluctant to act in spite of the obvious need for intervention.


What to do?


Rather than shelving the bill, as recommended by the opposition, the senate must work with reproductive health experts to strengthen the bill in alignment with existing national laws and policies such as the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy, 2015.


Learning from the previous attempt, it’s imperative to improve public engagement and to communicate scientific evidence in a way that people can easily understand.

For love or land – the debate about Kenyan women’s rights to matrimonial property

Kenya’s Matrimonial Property Act, which is discriminatory towards women and inconsistent with the country’s constitution, means few married women own land. Less than five percent of all land title deeds in Kenya are held jointly by women and only one percent of land titles are held by women alone.


By Miriam Gathigah


Inter Press Service (01.06.2020) – – Ida Njeri was a civil servant with access to a Savings and Credit Cooperative Society (SACCO) through her employer, and her husband a private consultant in the information and communication sector, when she began taking low-interest loans from the cooperative so they could buy up land in Ruiru, Central Kenya. She’d willing done it. Part of their long-term plan together for having a family was that they would acquire land and eventually build their dream home. But little did Njeri realise that 12 years and three children later the law would stand against her right to owning the matrimonial property.



“As a private consultant, it was difficult for my husband to join a SACCO. People generally join SACCOs through their employer. This makes it easy to save and take loans because you need three people within your SACCO to guarantee the loan,” Njeri tells IPS.


“My husband had a savings bank account so we would combine my loans with his savings. By 2016, I had 45,000 dollars in loans. My husband would tell me the amount of money needed to purchase land and I would take out a loan,” she adds, explaining that her husband handled all the purchases.


By 2016 the couple had purchased 14 different pieces of land, each measuring an eighth of an acre. But last year, when the marriage fell apart, Njeri discovered that all their joint land was in her husband’s name.


“All along I just assumed that the land was in both our names. I never really thought about it because we were jointly building our family. Even worse, all land payment receipts and sale agreements are also in his name alone,” she says.


Worse still, there was little she can do about it within the current framework of the country’s laws.


Despite Article 45 (3) of the 2010 Constitution providing for equality during marriage and upon divorce, and despite the fact that  Njeri’s marriage was registered (effectively granting her a legal basis for land ownership under the Marriage Act 2014) there is another law in the country — the Matrimonial Property Act 2013 — which stands against her.


More specifically, it is Section 7 of the act that states ownership of matrimonial property is dependent on the contributions of each spouse toward its acquisition.


  • “Ownership of matrimonial property rests in the spouses according to the contribution of either spouses towards its acquisition, and shall be divided between the spouses if they divorce or their marriage is otherwise dissolved,” Section 7 states.


Because Njeri had no proof of jointly purchasing the land, upon her divorce she is not entitled to it.


Hers is not an isolated case of married women struggling to ensure their land rights.


In 2018, the Kenya Land Alliance (KLA), an advocacy network dedicated to the realisation of constitutional provisions of women’s land rights as a means to eradicate poverty and hunger, and promote gender equality, in line with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), released an audit of land ownership after the disaggregation and analysis of approximately one third of the 3.2 million title deeds issued by the government between 2013 and 2017 — the highest number of title deeds issued in any regime.


Odenda Lumumba is a land rights activist and founder of KLA, which is a local partner for Deliver For Good, a global campaign that applies a gender lens to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and powered by global advocacy organisation Women Deliver. She explains that the data on land ownership is a pointer to the reality that gender disparities remain a concern, especially because of the intricate relationship between land tenure systems, livelihoods and poverty.


“There is very little progress towards women owning land. There are so many obstacles for them to overcome,” Lumumba tells IPS.


  • The KLA audit of land ownership found that only 103,043 titles or 10.3 percent of title deeds were issued to women compared to the 865,095 or 86.5 percent that went to men.
  • Even greater gender disparities were found in terms of the actual land size. While men own 9,903,304 hectares in titled land, representing 97.76 percent of land, women own 1.67 percent or 10,129,704 hectares of land during this five year period.
  • Further, this audit found that men own 75 percent of land title deeds of all allocated land settlement schemes.


In 2018, the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) in Kenya petitioned Kenya’s High Court, arguing that Section 7 of the Matrimonial Property Act was discriminatory towards women and inconsistent and in contravention of Article 45 (3) of the Constitution.


The court dismissed the petition, ruling out a blanket equal sharing of marital property as it would “open the door for a party to get into marriage and walk out of it in the event of divorce with more than they deserve”.


Within this context, less than five percent of all land title deeds in Kenya are held jointly by women and only one percent of land titles are held by women alone who are in turn disadvantaged in the manner in which they use, own, manage and dispose land, says FIDA-Kenya.


But as gender experts are becoming alarmed by the rising numbers of female headed households — 32 percent out of 11 million households based on government estimates — securing women’s land rights is becoming more urgent.


“The Matrimonial Property Act gives women the capacity to register their property but a majority of women do not realise just how important this is. Later, they struggle to access their property because they did not ensure that they were registered as owners,” Janet Anyango, legal counsel at FIDA-Kenya’s Access to Justice Programme, tells IPS. FIDA-Kenya is a premier women rights organisation that, for 34 years, has offered free legal aid to at least three million women and children. It is also another Deliver For Good/Women Deliver partner organisation in Kenya.


Anyango says that in law “the meaning of ‘contribution’ was expanded to include non-monetary contributions but it is difficult to quantify contribution in the absence of tangible proof. In the 2016 lawsuit, we took issue with the fact that the law attributes marital liabilities equally but not assets”.


  • In 2016 FIDA-Kenya sued the office of the Attorney General with regards to act, stating the same issues of discrimination against women.


In addition to the Matrimonial Property Act, laws such as the Law of Succession Act seek to cushion both surviving male and female spouses but are still skewed in favour of men as widows lose their “lifetime interest” in property if the remarry. And where there is no surviving spouse or children, the deceased’s father is given priority over the mother.


Women Deliver recognises that globally women and girls have unequal access to land tenure and land rights, creating a negative ripple effect on development and economic progress for all.


“When women have secure land rights, their earnings can increase significantly, improving their abilities to open bank accounts, save money, build credit, and make investments in themselves, their families and communities,” Susan Papp, Managing Director of Policy and Advocacy at Women Deliver, tells IPS.


She says that applying a gender lens to access “to resources is crucial to powering progress for and with all during the COVID-19 pandemic, even as the world continues to work towards the SDGs”.


And even though marriage services at the Attorney General’s office have been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as have all services at the land registries, women like Njeri will continue to fight for what they rightfully own.

KENYA: Muslim man killed after attempting to save the lives of Christians in bus attack

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Premier Christian News (21.02.2020) – – An attack by suspected al-Shabaab militants has left three people dead in Kenya. The heavily armed terrorists struck a bus that was travelling from Mandera to Nairobi.


According to reports, two Christians, Peter Kilonzo Musili and Kevin Onyango, were killed after failing to recite the Islamic statement of faith.


A Muslim man was also killed after attempting to protect the Christians as they were being separated out from the group.


A security officer based in northeastern Kenya confirmed the attack, telling International Christian Concern (ICC): “The incident happened on the morning of February 19 at Banisa, Mandera County, where a group of armed al-Shabaab members ambushed a bus ferrying 47 passengers to Nairobi. They sprayed it with bullets and deflated the tires in order to halt it and pick Christians from the bus. The efforts of the driver to escape from their trap did not bear fruit. He was also injured during the attack. Three people were killed and two others injured.”


The attack bore similarities to an incident that took place in December last year, during which 11 Christians travelling on a bus were shot dead by Islamic militants.


A local Mandera-based evangelist told ICC that the recent attack is simply a continuation of what is becoming normal for the region: “We are seeing a return of planned violent attacks against Christians in northeastern Kenya and the coastal region. Hostility against Christians has been escalating in Mandera at an alarming rate and is being carried out by al-Shabaab members.


“They target public service vehicles, where they separate Christians from Muslims and execute them. If not vehicles, they attack residential places and kill non-local Christian people.


“We are, however, proud of the few courageous Muslims who stand up and defend Christians. In this bus attack, one of them was killed for trying to stop the gunmen from shooting the Christians who were not able to say the Islamic prayer.”


Kenya has been suffering from a spate of attacks at the hands of Islamic militants in recent times. Just last month, three foreign teachers were killed at Kamuthe Primary School in Garissa while they lay asleep in the school’s residential area. As a result, the Teachers’ Service Commission (TSC) has transferred all non-local teachers away from the danger zones.


Now, many are calling on the authorities to do more to protect those who travel on buses.


“Buses in Kenya have become one of the main targets for al-Shabaab,” said Nathan Johnson, ICC’s regional manager for Africa. “There have already been at least four similar attacks this year alone. In each one, Christian passengers are separated from those who are Muslim. They are then slaughtered like animals.


“What is encouraging to see is that there have also been a number of brave Muslims who have continued to try and protect the Christians. Those who do this must be lifted up as heroes. I am sad that Mr. Abinoor was killed, but he is a hero for trying to save others’ lives, and he needs to be applauded as such.”