The international Conference on Population Development’s 25-year anniversary conference in Nairobi (Nairobi Summit) was a moment to celebrate the progress made in advancing the rights of women and girls globally. The progress made in reducing maternal mortality, enabling girls to go to school and shifting harmful norms in different countries. This progress was achieved by many states, development actors and civil society even if not formally working together. This progress was achieved in spite of the biggest contributor to this critical work, withdrawing funding and further stunting the ability for many stakeholders to fulfill their mandate. Through the global gag rule, the United States of America claimed the shortcomings of global progress. Where gaps in funding impacted who is served and how they are served in health facilities.
Day for Maternal Health and Rights
Several months later, amidst a global health crisis, 11 April is the International Day for Maternal Health and Rights. It is an important day to gauge just how the global gag rule has reduced the differences between state and civil society health facilities. Where the latter would be more progressive and in line with community needs. However, it has created an ecosystem that places both state and civil society clients/beneficiaries in the same position for certain groups. The global gag rule has forced civil society partners to no longer work together and any human rights organisations to subvert their mandates in lieu of funding. It has only replicated the repressive laws that emanate from colonial rule. Like many other African countries under British rule, Botswana allows for abortion under certain stringent circumstances. Laws enacted when women’s rights were basically non-existent and white supremacy touted in governance structures. Six decades after independence Botswana remains the same, except that advancements made in women’s rights were limited to safeguarding inheritance of property, maternal health, access to education and HIV among others.
Much is yet to be achieved in areas of violence, political participation and more glaringly, safe abortion. The ability to exercise agency in all facets of life is highly compromised as many youth are facing early unintended pregnancy, limited career choice, home care responsibilities and betrothal in deeply cultural remote locations. There is no guarantee that these challenges would be eliminated had the global gag rule not been implemented, but the possibilities certainly outweigh the costs of its impact. The cost of being criminalized, poor, from a specific ethnic group, engaging in sex work or simply being bisexual. The many multifaceted aspects of being human are denied to many who have to bear these costs. More glaringly, LGBT youth are not always included in the reproductive rights discourse. Readily available data is limited and even the most progressive of health facilities remain linear in providing services.
A look at Botswana
The global gag rule has forced one to access health services in different facilities. One can find themselves having to make two taxi trips to one facility for cervical cancer screenings, and another for family planning information or counselling just because of a policy. Similar to many other policies that require one to have been sexually assaulted before being given PEP. I would have to go through a strenuous process of recounting my ordeal multiple times to a police constable, where I have to subsequently do the same before an investigating officer and even accompany the police to identify the perpetrator. All before I can actually receive treatment. God forsake the mandatory 72 hours passes, what then? This is the reality in Botswana. Where a policy in the mind of an elite man and a bureaucratic implementing officer creates more complications to restoring my dignity.
The global gag rule does not instill or restore any dignity to those that need services and care after having to endure backdoor/unsafe abortion. It does not instill or restore any dignity to a man’s stealthing after consenting to sex. It does not instill or restore any dignity to a woman that has been violated by a man for her assumed sexual orientation. The global gag rule is an indignity to human rights, global policy and many young talented and diverse people who cannot afford private care when they need it the most. It is a power play against those who cannot freely express themselves or self-determine. It is a tool used to colonise development and bodily autonomy because many laws and practices align with it. Patriarchy and privilege continue to benefit when the sexual and reproductive rights of women, youth and queer beings are compromised or denied.
Dumi is a PhD (Law) candidate, proudly Pan African and unequivocally non-binary queer feminist. More works from Dumi here.