The Zimbabwean government’s measures to address maternal mortality have little prospects of success

linettedutoitAuthor: Linette du Toit
LLM (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa) candidate, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa

It is a universal and timeless reality that women face the risk of death in the process of giving life. In recent years, this risk has been virtually eliminated for those who have access to the necessary prenatal care and emergency medical assistance. Contrary to the global trend, Zimbabwe has seen a stark increase in its number of maternal deaths and currently sits with a figure that is 50% higher than the sub-Saharan average.

This state of affairs is not surprising in light of the disintegrated nature of Zimbabwe’s public health system, which reached its lowest point in 2008. At that time, government policies led to the closure of public hospitals and a medical school in Harare. Basic resources and emergency care have not been consistently available and the government’s failure to remunerate healthcare professionals with set salaries left many of them with no choice but to leave the country. The continuing epidemic of deaths which could have been prevented indicates an alarming disregard for a variety of rights and obligations on the part of the Zimbabwean government. Questions arise as to whether the government is taking appropriate measures to address the plight of Zimbabwean women.

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Recognising the struggle – Kenya’s award on reproductive health rights

Tabitha GriffithAuthor: Saoyo Tabitha Griffith
Advocate, High Court of Kenya

Sometime in May 2013, the Republic of Kenya, together with two of her counterparts, Zambia and The Gambia, received the prestigious Resolve Award from the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health. Briefly, the Resolve Award was launched in 2011 as an annual award issued by the Aspen Institute. The Award recognises countries that are surmounting various challenges to bring essential reproductive health services to their people and celebrates progress made by governments towards delivering on the promise of universal access to reproductive health. We must therefore begin by celebrating our nation’s achievement. Indeed, impressing a Council comprising of 18 sitting and former heads of states amongst others, the Honourable Mary Robinson, Her Excellency Joyce Banda, Honourable Gro Harlem, Vice Admiral Regina Benjamin and Honourable Tarja Haloren is by no means an easy step.

The Award comes at an opportune time when mothers all over Kenya are celebrating the reprieve granted by the Jubilee Coalition which on 1 June 2013 issued a directive waiving all fees payable by mothers for maternal services at public health facilities. In recent times, we have in addition seen other efforts by the Kenyan government aimed at transforming access to reproductive health services and lowering maternal mortality. First, there is the constitutional recognition of reproductive health as a fundamental human right under Article 43(1)(a). There is also the enactment of many visionary policies and guidelines, including the National Reproductive Health Policy and the comprehensive Population Policy for National Development which places family planning at the centre of Kenya’s development agenda. Additionally, there is also the Child Survival and Development Strategy and the National Road Map for accelerating the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) related to maternal and newborn health in Kenya.

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The State’s ineptitude or indisposition to deal with Eastern Cape education is a continuous violation of children’s rights

akho_ntanjanaAuthor: Akho Ntanjana
Legal intern, Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), Banjul, The Gambia

Without citing any empirical evidence, it is known that the quality of school facilities has an indirect effect on learning and ultimately on its output.  For instance, in a study carried out in India (1996), out of 59 schools in a region, only 49 had structures. Of these 49 schools, 25 had a toilet, 20 had electricity, 10 had a school library and four had a television set. In this study, the quality of the learning environment was strongly correlated with pupils’ achievement in Hindi and mathematics.

Further, a research study was conducted in Latin America that included 50 000 students in grades 3 and 4, it was found that learners whose schools lacked classroom materials and had inadequate libraries were significantly more likely to show lower test scores and higher grade repetition than those whose schools were well equipped (see the United Nations Children’s Fund’s paper ‘Defining Quality Education’). There are many other studies done even in Africa, for example in Botswana, Nigeria and Papua New Guinea, indicating similar outcomes.

There seem to be a correlation between good school infrastructures, other quality dimensions (inter alia the quality of content, psychological aspects, quality processes involved) and the achievement of higher grades by learners. In this opinion piece, I examine the state of education in the Eastern Cape, and the failure by the South Africa government to meet its constitutional and international obligations to provide basic education.

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Female genital mutilation in South Africa

Barbara KituiAuthor: Barbara Kitui
LLM (Human Rights & Democartisation in Africa)  student, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is one of the cultural practises embedded amongst the Venda community of north-east of South Africa. Eight weeks or less after childbirth, Venda women undergo a traditional ceremony called muthuso. Muthuso is a process of cutting the vaginal flesh of the mother by a traditional healer. The flesh is mixed with black powder and oil and applied on the child’s head to prevent goni. Goni has been described as a swelling on the back of a child’s head. The Venda people believe that goni can only be cured using the vaginal flesh of the child’s mother. Women who experienced FGM stated that they bleed excessively after the ceremony. Moreover, the women stated that there is no postnatal care in Venda. Consequently, the women use traditional medicine and sometimes this leads to death because of substandard treatment.

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Using human rights to combat unsafe abortion: What needs to be done?

Charles NgwenyaAuthor: Charles Ngwena
Professor of  Law, University of the Free State, South Africa

The latest global and regional estimates of the incidence of unsafe abortion and associated mortality bring no comfort to the African region. What is disconcerting about the estimates is not only that unsafe abortion continues to account for 13 per cent of maternal mortality, but also that, from a regional perspective, Africa’s share of unsafe abortion-related maternal mortality remains quite disproportionate. Africa stands out as the region least positioned to meet the Millennium Development Goal to reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters by 2015.

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