‘Pro-family’ campaigners ignore pregnant women dying during Covid lockdowns

COMMENT

The so-called “pro-family” campaigners who glorify motherhood, encourage women to give birth and often even campaign against contraception, have been strangely unmoved by the traumas of childbirth during Covid-19. 

Under lockdowns across the African continent, pregnant women died in childbirth, missed check-ups, resorted to risky home births and were denied care at health facilities

For “pro-family” campaigners, sex should lead to pregnancy and pregnancy to childbirth. Why, then, are they ignoring the people who are walking this very path at a time when sweeping state actions to control coronavirus are cutting off these women’s access to maternity care? 

Instead, conservative groups such as CitizenGo are fighting efforts to expand access to women’s health services in Kenya – including the ability to terminate pregnancy if the woman’s life is in danger. 

Pregnant Kenyan women, such as Vidia Nduku, who could not get to hospital for six hours, have died because of curfew restrictions, while “pro-family” campaigners are busy fighting the Kenyan Reproductive Healthcare Bill. The Bill has since been halted for further public comment

Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network and Women’s Link Worldwide are working together to defend pregnant women. They have filed a court case that argues in part that the state failed to provide “clear and comprehensive information” in response to reports by “a number of media outlets that women and girls were failing to access health facilities”. 

In contrast, the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum has hosted webinars to rally people against the Bill, which they say will legalise abortion. In reality, all the Bill does is reiterate what Kenyan law already allows – the termination of pregnancy when a woman’s life is threatened.

Kathy Kageni-Oganga, a preacher who in 2019 erected graphic anti-abortion billboards in Nairobi’s CBD, has also actively campaigned against the proposed legislation. On August 16 2020 she urged her congregation to write to the Senate to oppose it and later celebrated on Facebook when it was halted for further public hearings.

But Ann Kioko, the African representative of CitizenGo, an organisation that has close ties to the far-right in Spain, has emerged as one of Kenya’s most vocal and busiest “pro-family” campaigners. You might find her outside parliament with a handful of protesters picketing against women legislators such as Esther Passaris and Susan Kihika, who introduced the Bill. Or you could chance upon her in Kibera handing out baby-size dolls splashed with red paint, then sharing pictures on social media to “prove” that Kenyan women are against abortion. She has also appeared frequently on local TV channels. 

Kioko even presented a petition against the Bill to parliament, saying it was signed by 20 000 people. CitizenGo online petitions can be signed by anyone anywhere in the world. The petitions, which are now being used to influence local policy deliberations, don’t show where their signatories are based. CitizenGo’s Africa Twitter account has fewer than 750 followers and its Facebook page is liked by fewer than 5 000 – and we don’t know where those followers are based.

But it’s not just the Kenyan bill that kept Kioko busy. CitizenGo Africa has posted several online petitions targeting reproductive health policy in the name of pro-family values across the continent in this period. 

In Namibia, CitizenGo Africa targeted health minister Ester Muinjangue after she tabled a motion in parliament to discuss the decriminalisation of safe abortion services. In South Africa, it is opposed to comprehensive sexuality education in schools. 

The entity has also targeted donor aid for sexual and reproductive health in Africa – with a petition against Canada’s international development minister, Karina Gould, for earmarking $8.9-million for access to contraceptives and another against similar petition against Swedish aid.

Yet somehow they have been unmoved by the childbirth and pregnancy traumas faced by African women who have walked the path they desire for all sexually active women  – the women who fall pregnant and carry their pregnancies to term. 

Tracking by openDemocracy, a UK based media platform, found news and other reports of these traumas in six African countries. The “pro-family” activists in Africa didn’t raise their voices or start petitions to call out states for pandemic responses that led to these tragedies. 

It’s not like they refrained from questioning official responses to the coronavirus altogether. CitizenGo campaigned for the reopening of churches, for example. Earlier, when the Covid-19 pandemic was largely still restricted to China, CitizenGo launched a petition against flights from China entering Kenya too. 

Could it be that these campaigners don’t care about women’s well-being and only want to control their bodies by reducing their reproductive health options so they give birth at whatever cost to their health? It certainly seems that way.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

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Arya Karijo
Arya Jeipea Karijo is a transwoman in Kenya working at the intersection of human rights, LGBTIQ rights, feminism and gender equality. She is an investigative journalism fellow working with openDemocracy, to track organised opposition to women's sexuality and reproductive rights, and LGBTQI rights.
Lydia Namubiru
Lydia Namubiru, a Ugandan journalist, writes about public policy and the budding technology ecosystem in the East African region. She also teaches data journalism at The African Centre for Media Excellence in Kampala. She holds a masters degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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