Rethinking Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights approaches through a feminist lens

On the grander scheme, participants believed that decolonisation of the systems of governance and dismantling the patriarchy is necessary for sustainable change.

The Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Uganda context analysis we did shows that it is critical to centre the experiences and voices of women and girls who in their diversities are disproportionately impacted in accessing and enjoying SRHR services and information.

According to the analysis, women and girls should not just be looked as subjects to be acted upon but rather full autonomous human beings capable of making informed choices about their SRH. While civil society has played a critical part in the progress of SRHR, some actors in the space continue to remain reluctant and sometimes lack capacity to identify and act on invisible and contested issues under the SRHR umbrella.

In response, on 27th and 28th August, 2020, at the Latitude 0 Hotel in Kampala, we held the first capacity building training for organizations working on SRHR issues within the Joint Advocacy Program on SRHR (JAS) Programme.

The overall objective of the two-day training was to encourage participants to rethink sexual and reproductive health approaches through a feminist lens, and see to it that the SRHR interventions implemented by partners under the JAS program are not gender blind. The event was attended by a consortium of civil society organizations working on different thematic areas under Sexual Reproductive Health Rights. The organisations shared their unique insights on SRHR approaches as experienced through their various areas of specialty, re-imagining possible intersectional alternatives.

The training was facilitated by renowned Professor and human rights advocate Dr. Sylvia Tamale who challenged participants to weigh the truths they’ve been taught to believe as the single option, against alternative perspectives. Dr. Tamale shared about linking Feminist principles to SRHR, sex versus gender, the patriarchal superstructure and the gender spectrum. She stressed that SRHR programming can be transformational only when the agency, autonomy, and choice of women and people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are prioritized. She also noted that achieving SRHR is a critical part of the feminist agenda and crucial for gender equality and improved health outcomes.

Dr. Tamale in her training focused on the framework of positive sexuality for mutual pleasure also presenting Ubuntu, a framework which advocates for the acceptance of diversity and the politics of the common good as opposed to current exclusionary practices.

Participants during the training conducted an analysis on five groups of marginalised people; LGBTQI persons, refugees, sex workers, women, young people and people living with HIV. They assessed the barriers to access of  SRHR services for the marginalized groups citing factors such as discrimination, costly services, poor accessibility of services as well as lack of access to information on SRHR services.

To solve the said challenges, participants recommended early comprehensive sexuality education that incorporates the normalisation of LGBTQI persons so as to change mindsets, community monitoring of health care centres and holding them accountable for stocking SRHR products, representation and strengthening of advocacy for sex workers on technical platforms, education that disproves prevailing stigmas on SRHR, and  provision of legal aid and translation of SRHR information into local languages and braille. They also proposed the need for more inclusive policies, more funding and more representation of women in parliament with values of Ubuntu. On the grander scheme, participants believed that decolonisation of the systems of governance and dismantling the patriarchy is necessary for sustainable change.

The JAS Programme is a consortium of civil society organizations working on different thematic areas under SRHR covering HIV/AIDS, LGBTIQ, young people, sex work, abortion rights. refugees, access to medicines and commodities and women and gender. It is steered by the Centre for Health Human Rights and Development-CEHURD and supported by  the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency – SIDA.