A team of lawmakers from the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) are in Rwanda to discuss with different stakeholders the sexual and reproductive health bill that has been with the regional parliament for years now. The Bill seeks to come up with a harmonized way of protecting the right to sexual and reproductive health of all persons in the East African Community as well as push for the related information and services as part of the universal health coverage in all Partner States. The two-day national consultative meeting is aimed at creating awareness and seek inputs of stakeholders in member states before the bill is tabled before the regional parliament. In Rwanda, the meeting was organized by EALA in partnership with Eastern Africa National Networks of AIDS and Health Service Organizations (EANNASO), Faith to Action Network and Health Development Initiative (HDI). Speaking at the opening of the meeting, Francine Rutazana, a Rwandan representative at EALA said that the Bill was introduced by Rwandan representative at the regional parliament Odette Nyiramirimo. However, it has since been inherited by a member from South Sudan upon Nyiramirimo’s exit in 2017. Rutazana called on the participants to freely give their opinions, views and suggestions towards the Bill which will be considered when the assembly finally convenes to discuss it. “This Bill is meant to serve the people of the East African Community and we encourage you to try as much as possible to freely give opinions so that your views and perspectives are given consideration when the assembly is passing the Bill,” she said. The Policy Officer for African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), Nicholas Okapu Etyang told participants that the Bill seeks to facilitate and promote reduction and elimination of unsafe abortions, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections, early and unintended pregnancies among others. He pointed out that the Bill was motivated by challenges in availability and access to quality and affordable services that are also affordable to all. “What the East African Community Sexual reproductive Health Bill wants to achieve is that these services are inclusive and equitably available to all so that we can close the rural/urban, rich/poor divide and leave no one behind,” he said. He also added that the legislation will also address challenges surrounding violence against women, young girls, young boys, vulnerable groups which that continue to prevent them from achieving their full potential. The Executive Director of HDI, Dr. Aflodis Kagaba said that the Bill will not only inform national legislations but will also ensure that the citizens of these countries benefit from the right programs. “The Bill touches some critical areas that may not be covered in our own legislation like assisted reproduction or reproductive health for the elderly. This Bill is more comprehensive than any other national laws that we currently have,” he said. Key components of the bill In its Article 6, the draft legislation obliges each Partner State to provide and include appropriate sexuality education for the health and wellbeing of adolescents and young people. Another component of the bill is the article that obliges member states to clearly indicate the role of religious or community leaders and civil society in providing sexual and reproductive health information and services. Although participants at the consultative meeting heard that there are member States like Rwanda that advocate for teenage mothers to continue with their education, the bill calls for clearly written national policies on the same. “Every Partner State shall design and implement their education programmes and facilities and require every provider of education to ensure that adolescent girls or young women who become pregnant before completing their education are given the opportunity to complete their education,” the draft legislation reads in part. However, in the likely event that the adolescent girls and young women are unable to continue with their education after pregnancy, the same Article requires Partner States to develop and implement mechanisms to provide vocational, skills and career development and training for. Through the Secretary General of the EAC, every Partner State shall provide an annual report to the Assembly on the number of adolescent girls who become pregnant and the adolescent girls to continue their education. The information required shall be broken down by age and socio-economic grouping. Other notable articles include one that requires member states to provide appropriate facilities to ensure that people with disabilities are assured of their sexual and reproductive health including appropriate infrastructure, customized information, equipment and services to meet the special needs of persons with disabilities.