Malawi urged to domesticate reproductive health treaties

Mama Emma Kaliya urges Malawi to liberalise abortion law

Malawi has an obligation to domesticate international treaties she has signed and ratified over the years, a human rights activist has said.

“As a nation, we are very good at signing and ratifying international instruments but surprisingly find it difficult to domesticate the same within our legal framework,” said Mama Emma Kaliya who is the executive director of Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre (MHRCC).

She made the observation at the weekend during a workshop organised by Centre for Solutions Journalism (CSJNEWS) with support from IPAS Malawi.

According to Kaliya, it is encouraging that Malawi is party to a number of international human rights instruments dealing with gender equality and even sexual and reproductive health rights but bemoaned the slow process in domestication process.

She cited the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and

Southern African Development Community (SADC) protocol on Gender and Development (2017) as some instruments Malawi is party to.

“By signing some of these treaties, Malawi committed herself to provide access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services including safe abortion. Unfortunately, we are not expediting the enactment of Termination of Pregnancy Bill as part of those obligations,” she said.

Kaliya observed besides her failure to fulfill the commitments made in international treaties, Malawi even struggles to fulfill her own policies.

“Malawi has managed to create a very good framework for the reduction of gender inequalities and poverty among its people especially women and girls, but implementation is a problem. Translating policy to reality remains a challenge,” said the veteran activist.

She singled out Malawi’s Gender Equality Act of 2013 as an example of good legislation which is not being implemented to the fullest.

Gender Equality Act in Section 19 provides that: “Every person has a right to adequate sexual and reproductive health which includes the right to access sexual and reproductive health, access family planning services, to be protected from sexually transmitted infection, choose the number of children and when to bear the children control fertility; and  choose an appropriate method of contraception.”

“But is this being fully implemented?” quizzed Kaliya. “The obvious answer is no.”

During the workshop, several participants concurred with Kaliya that despite having clear national and international instruments, which obliges Malawi to ensure the provision of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, fulfillment of such obligations was going at a snail’s pace.

Commenting on the issue, CSJNEWS executive director Brian Ligomeka observed the slow process in law reforms in Malawi was indeed a problem.

“Progress on abortion law reform is being made but at a slow pace. It is important to note that when law reform is going on at slow pace, the whole process becomes expensive to both the government and even those of us in the civil society advocating for law reform,” he said.

Despite the delays, Ligomeka said CSJNEWS still had faith in the process and the sequence of activities.

“In our scenario, progress began with the conducting of studies by various stakeholders which generated evidence on the magnitude of unsafe abortions in Malawi. That was followed by the development of issues and discussion papers. Then, came the drafting of the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill – which is part of a report by the Law Commission submitted the government.

He added: “Without these milestones, it would have been difficult to advocate for the enactment of the proposed bill…..The major steps remaining are adoption of the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill as a government bill by the Cabinet and the tabling of the bill in Parliament. Of course the final step will be assenting of the Bill by the Head of State,” he said.

Ligomeka said apart from pressing for the speedy enactment of the law, human rights groups are also sensitising the masses about the provisions of the proposed law.

“We want the masses to know that abortions in Malawi are legal but only restricted. This means that eligible women and girls can access abortion,” he said.

“More importantly, we also want women and girls to know that at the moment all government hospitals are providing post-abortion care and contraceptives free of charge.”

Abortion is one of the major public health challenges haunting Malawi at the moment.

Several studies indicate that a third of the beds in gynaecological wards in Malawi public hospitals are occupied by survivors of unsafe abortions.

According to studies conducted the by University of Malawi and Guttmacher Institute, over 141,000 Malawian women and girls procure abortion every year.