Author: Satang Nabaneh
Project Officer, Women Rights Unit, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
In the Gambian context, the right of women to an informed choice and access to family planning and appropriate health-care service remains contentious due to the socio-cultural and religions dimensions. Being a society where deep-seated traditions and the Islamic religion play a major part in the life of a person and society, issues of sexuality and procreation are generally interpreted accordingly.
The Gambia has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Africa, which criminalises abortion based on colonially inherited penal code (Criminal Code, Act no. 25 of 1933). The Criminal Code follows the abortion law as provided in the English Offences against the Person Act of 1861 and subsequent interpretation by the Courts such as in the 1938 case of R v Bourne (3 ALL ER 615,  1 KB 687).
Maternal mortality is one of the shocking failures of development and a dreadful social injustice. According to recent UN official figures, 536,000 women die every year during pregnancy and birth. This is one death every minute. Out of the 536,000 maternal deaths, 99% are experienced by women in developing countries. The highest maternal mortality rates are in Africa; with a lifetime risk of 1 in 16. Maternal death is often the result of policy decisions that directly or indirectly discriminate against women. Maternal death is also often an indication of inequalities between men and women in their enjoyment of the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Below I illustrate how other rights are either implicated by or essential in combating maternal mortality.