The African branch of CitizenGO, an ultra-conservative advocacy group founded in Spain, is promoting an online petition against a draft law meant to protect and facilitate the attainment of sexual and reproductive health and rights of people in the East African Community (EAC), much to the chagrin of regional lawmakers and other experts. Experts told The New Times that the group has selfish ulterior motives that do not serve the interests of east Africans, and is confusing the Western agenda with the regional agenda, on sexual and reproductive health and rights of people. The group’s online petition to EALA Speaker Martin Ngoga, which The New Times has seen, seeks withdraw of the Bill “with immediate effect” based on the allegation that “it is not consistent with member states legal provisions.” The group claims that the Bill, which is sponsored by Hon Ayason Mukulia Kennedy is anti-life and anti-family and hence should be withdrawn as soon as possible. MP Mukulia is a South Sudan member of EALA who reintroduced the draft law in the Assembly mid last year. According to CitizenGO, this is the fourth attempt by abortionists in liaison with ignorant or greedy members of parliament to try to have abortion and comprehensive sexuality education legalized at the regional Parliament. The EAC Bill was first introduced to EALA five years ago by former Rwandan representative Odette Nyiramirimo. Lawmakers and other regional stakeholders such as Health Development Initiative (HDI), an independent non-profit organization based in Kigali, are pushing for it to be passed and enacted as soon as possible. But they face opposition from groups such as CitizenGO which are pulling all strings to stop it. All indication, sources told The New Times, is that the online petition against the legislation is pushed by foreign activists, with no regard for the lives of EAC citizens. Lobbyists’ position marred with limited knowledge about the region MP Mukulia told The New Times that CitizenGO is a rightwing organisation opposing everything to do with things that help ordinary EAC citizens. “They have tagged me and I ignored them. Their purpose doesn’t serve citizens of our community,” MP Mukulia added, echoing Dr. Aflodis Kagaba, the Executive Director of HDI who said it is very unfortunate that their position is marred with limited understanding of sexual and reproductive health rights. Dr Kagaba says he was familiar with the petition and the organisation that is behind it. “HDI thinks the bill is progressive, and a very important step towards the realisation of sexual and reproductive health rights for the EAC citizens and hope that EALA will go ahead and pass it” MP Francoise Uwumukiza (Rwanda) said CitizenGO “are against success” and are the type who comment about things without having read and understood anything about the proposed legislation. In early 2020, EALA’s Committee on General Purpose met in Bujumbura, Burundi, and poured over the old version of the draft law. Lawmakers considered the numerous challenges identified during public hearings from partner states as they sought to generate consensus on issues. At the time, they noted that important elements such as child marriage, menstrual health, gender-based violence, men’s reproductive health, and sexually transmitted diseases, were not well elaborated. On men’s and boys’ reproductive health, for example, MP Mukulia noted, “many men tend to blame women for not conceiving” yet sometimes, it may be the men themselves who are unable to make women conceive. “The previous Bill was silent on all these things. So, we clearly highlighted them,” MP Mukulia said, explaining how they ended up with the newly revised version which they want fast-tracked and passed. Post-abortion care and treatment “CitizenGO is so much opposed to the clause on termination of pregnancy, which they call abortion, and that is where they have a problem. We looked at different Constitutions in partner states and only Uganda and Kenya have it in their Constitutions,” Mukulia said. “Kenya doesn’t permit it but in case a health professional determines that the health of a mother is in danger, it can be allowed. This is the case for Rwanda too, and others. And this is the same thing that the Bill says.” Article 16 of the draft law stipulates that a woman may terminate a pregnancy if, in the opinion of a health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, the pregnancy endangers the mental or physical health or the life of the woman, or in the case of sexual assault, rape, incest or as may be permitted by the law of a partner state. The draft law allows partner states to use their own respective laws to decide what to do in such situations. As regards health and life-saving post-abortion care and treatment, Article 17 states that: “Every person is entitled and shall receive post-abortion care and treatment as a health and life-saving medical intervention, notwithstanding the legality of the abortion or attempted abortion.” “Notwithstanding any other law, a health professional who provides post-abortion care or treatment shall not be prosecuted for the service provided.” The draft law also stipulates that a healthcare provider or health professional that does not, refuses or neglects to provide post-abortion care or treatment to a woman or an adolescent girl commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding $10,000. Last year, regional lawmakers again traversed the region to consult different stakeholders on how the bill can be improved. “It is not a bad EAC Bill,” Mukulia said. According to MP Francine Rutazana (Rwanda), CitizenGO’s “kind of generalization does not really help.” She said the bill is needed in EAC so as “to protect and facilitate the attainment of the life-course sexual and reproductive health of our people especially mothers, and young people.” “Contentious issues which appear in the current version are under discussion to accommodate views and opinion of various stakeholders including religious and others specific groups acting in the name of their cultural behaviours and beliefs,” Rutazana said. The bill, among others, provides for the integration of sexual and reproductive health services in partner states’ universal health coverage. These sexual and reproductive health services shall include voluntary testing, prevention and treatment for HIV; prevention, screening and treatment for reproductive cancers – including cervical cancer, breast cancer, testicular and prostate cancer; prevention, detection and treatment of reproductive tract infections; and counselling relating to sexual and reproductive health. Besides access to permitted, safe and effective abortion services, the bill also provides for access to sexual and reproductive health services for people living with disabilities. Access to sexual and reproductive health information, Rutazana added, is needed for the region’s young people to act responsibly; and that is one of the components covered by this bill.” It is hoped that before the fourth EALA wraps up its five-year mandate, this year, the bill will be passed and not passed on to the fifth Assembly as was the case during the third Assembly. When the bill goes through, MP Mukulia said: “We will save 34 million lives of our girls who may die through illegal and unsafe abortions done outside proper health settings, as well as stop girls from dropping out of school.” Continue education after pregnancy In the Bill, continuation of education after pregnancy is guaranteed. This was inspired by the general understanding that in the region, teenage mothers seeking to return to school after giving birth face shame, stigma and an unsupportive learning environment. “An adolescent girl or young woman who becomes pregnant, before completing her education, shall be given the opportunity with appropriate facilities, within a reasonable period after delivery, to continue with her education,” reads part of article 12. “For the purposes of this section, 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 bill also stipulates that every country shall develop and implement mechanisms to provide vocational, skills and career development and training for adolescent girls and young women who are unable to continue with their education after pregnancy. “We want to see EALA pass the bill,” Dr Kagaba said.