By ODOGWU EMEKA ODOGWU
A four-day Ipas media training for journalists on Women’s Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights has ended in Owerri , Imo state capital with a call for the liberalisation of the abortion laws in Nigeria.
The participants saw reasons to expand indications for abortion in Nigeria to include rape , incest and health conditions as against what is obtainable now in the criminal code in Southern Nigeria and penal code in the Northern Nigeria.
The Penal code and Criminal Code are against abortion which the laws said is illegal and carries a penalty of 14 years in jail. However, these laws recognised that the only legal way to have an abortion in Nigeria is if having the child is going to put the mother’s life in danger.
But the media practitioners saw reasons to align with Ipas, an International Non-governmental Organization to champion for the elimination of unsafe abortion and the resulting deaths by advocating for a comprehensive medical care for victims of sexual violence.
The 18 participants from Abia, Anambra and Imo states agreed on the need to increase women’s and girls’ ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights with access to information, services and support, adding that states should domesticate the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, 2015, which is the most comprehensive law on abortion ever in Nigeria which spared a thought for victims of sexual violence like Lagos state just did.
The interim country’s Director of Ipas, Mr Lucky Palmer had earlier explained the objectives of the organization to include among other things, building a network of journalists that would be strong advocates of women’s sexual reproductive health and rights in Anambra and Abia states.
Palmer represented by Barr Mrs Doris Ikpeze, a Policy Adviser with Ipas gave an overview of Ipas mission in Nigeria, its objectives and elicited the media practitioners’ reactions on their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats in reporting Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (WSRHR).
He restated that VAPP Act is a good document because it looked at the consequences of sexual violence on the victim and appealed for advocacy that will lead to the domestication in other states, aside the 10 states that already domesticated the Act and strict implementation of the Act.
Palmer who presented a paper on abortion and the law said there was need to review the laws surrounding abortion in Nigeria, as its restrictive nature has pushed many women to indulge in unsafe abortion, which has often cost them their lives.
Palmer said, “Access to abortion is particularly important for women and girls who are victims of sexual violence, rape and incest.
“There is a need for review of the restrictive abortion laws due to the human rights implications of unsafe abortion.”
He urged journalists to push for the domestication of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) act of 2015 in Abia State while commending Anambra for the domestication of the law.
He, however, noted that the act was not fully operational in Anambra State and wondered why the country will continue to sign international and regional treaties that it would not keep.
“Lack of political will on the part of the government will only continue to send our women to their early graves in large number, despite being signatories to so many international and regional treaties that promote women reproductive health and rights such as the African Union protocol on rights of women in Africa.”
Advancing for a comprehensive health care for sexual violence victims in her paper, Executive Director , Women , Law and Development Initiative, WOLDI, Barrister Hauwa Shekaru, blamed unsafe abortion on low economic level and poverty, contraceptive failure, poor knowledge of human sexuality and hypocrisy.
Barrister Hauwa Shekaru, a former Country Director of Ipas said there was need for Nigeria to review its reproductive health laws to address the contemporary challenges confronting female sexual health. She said that the extant criminal and penal laws on abortion had become obsolete, hence the urgent need for their review.
She further said people should not be castigated because of their personal choice of reproductive health and rights, lamenting that women are not given the desired attention they deserve for their health in Nigeria.
She added that while the laws did not encourage abortion of unwanted pregnancy, resulting from rape and incest, due to religious and cultural beliefs, victims continued to seek remedy through apparently harmful and unsafe methods.
A media guru, and resource person for the training, Mr. Emmanuel Ugoji, encouraged journalists to read widely to broaden their minds and as well inform the public accurately, emphasizing on the need not to treat issues particularly concerning sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls in isolation. He encouraged journalists to be conscious of new perspectives and weigh the options before running into conclusions or doing their report on any issue at all times.
Ugoji, who facilitated the training said the training was designed to build the capacity of the trainees to enhance their capacity to effectively and comprehensively report issues concerning female reproductive health as it has become imperative to liberalize the nation’s abortion laws to mitigate the huge human and material losses associated with reproductive health services rendered by quacks.
In her lecture, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist with the Federal Medical Centre, Owerre, Dr ,Mrs Emily Nzeribe, who spoke on the topics, ‘’ Introduction to Women Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights’’ and “burden of maternal death from unsafe abortions in Nigeria”, informed that unsafe abortions contribute immensely to maternal deaths hence the need for women to avail themselves opportunity to benefit from family planning which would go a long way in reducing maternal mortality.
She advocated for an end to child marriage and harmful practices against women and the need for professionals in Health practice to have a law backing them to offer safe abortions to victims of sexual violence.
Dr Mrs Nzeribe, described the nation’s extant laws on abortion as “restrictive”, adding that the laws prohibited professionals from providing expert services on abortion, except in extreme cases were the life of the victim was in danger.
“Nigeria is losing a lot of women every day because they often resorted to clandestine and illegal means or unsafe abortion. We need to liberalise the laws. It will not increase the rate of promiscuity, rather, it will make abortion safer,” she said.
Another Broadcast media guru and consultant, Godwin Odemijie who spoke on ‘’Network not Netsit: building network of reproductive Health journalists, encouraged journalists to reach out whenever opportunity presents itself to enable them have enough contacts to validate their reports and establish common interests in reporting beats like women sexual and reproductive health targeted at encouraging safe abortion.
The three day workshop featured interactive session and practical cases of why safe abortion should be encouraged in the society.
Ipas, an international non-governmental organisation, with its headquarters in North Carolina, U.S.A., is working to eliminate unsafe abortion by increasing women/girl child’s ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights and access to information, services and support.