Source: The Post
Amnesty International and AIDS Accountability International say the failure of the Referendum is a welcome reprieve because it contained clauses which would have undermined the rights of women.

In an article written by Louise Carmody, who is Amnesty International’s thematic researcher on sexual and reproductive rights in southern Africa, and Bob Munyati, a researcher at AAI, the two NGOs stated that women’s access to abortion services would have been gravely limited had the Referendum passed.

“For many women’s rights advocates, the failed Referendum is a welcome reprieve. The draft included problematic clauses that could have seriously undermined the human rights of women and girls in Zambia. Specifically, the draft defined life as beginning at conception, which would have gravely limited women’s access to abortion, unnecessarily endangering many lives and restricting women’s right to bodily autonomy and reproductive health,” Amnesty and AAI stated.

“Abortion is currently legal in Zambia under the Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1972, when necessary to save a woman’s life or due to social and economic circumstances. This makes Zambia one of only a few countries on the continent to respect human rights obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa as declared in the Maputo Protocol.”

The NGOs stated that Zambia must maintain the law which permitted abortion.

“Zambia’s current law saves lives, and should be reinforced not hindered. United Nations human rights experts have urged Zambia to progressively make abortion more accessible, not more difficult. This includes a duty to avoid creating additional legal barriers to access sexual and reproductive rights. The ‘reverse gear’ proposals in the Bill of Rights stand in stark contrast to Zambia’s international commitments, and the growing recognition across Africa of the importance of ensuring that women and girls have access to safe abortion care,” Amnesty and AAI stated.

“The African Union has dedicated 2016 to ‘human rights with a focus on women’. The global and regional development agendas cannot be achieved without ensuring that women and girls are able to make free choices about their own sexual and reproductive lives. The failed referendum offers an opportunity to re-draft the contentious clauses in the Bill and ensure Zambia upholds its human rights obligations and does not destabilize the gains of the last decade. It is time to move forward to ensure the realisation of sexual and reproductive rights and gender equality in Zambia.”

The NGOs noted that the number of illegal abortions being conducted was alarming.

“The Protocol recognises the importance of sexual and reproductive rights, and is the first human rights treaty to explicitly recognise the right to access safe abortion. The proposed changes in the current Bill clearly undermine Zambia’s obligations under the Maputo Protocol and other United Nations Treaties, to create and maintain legal conditions to enable women to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights. Most worryingly, the Referendum came at a time when unsafe abortions continue to be a major driving factor of maternal mortality and morbidity,” stated the NGOs.

By Mukosha Funga

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