Preparing to Vote? Remember African Women

As you American readers prepare to vote for President in November, please remember the women of Africa. Apart from the economy, one of the key issues that is clearly emerging in this election is abortion — especially after President Bush spoke in support of the anti-abortion rally.

Never has the American debate over abortion become clearer to us in Africa than during the Bush administration. Towards the end of October Congress made an attempt to hear from us Africans and what we think about the Mexico City policy — or what we prefer to call here the global gag rule.

Experts from around the world were given an opportunity to address the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Congress. It was believed that such experts will give a true picture of events in their countries to help Congress make a final decision on this controversial policy.

Speaking as an African woman, I was really excited that people working with women were called to speak about this. What didn't make me happy was the fact that someone purporting to be speaking on behalf of African women made a blanket statement about the global gag rule and the fact that America should give us more money to preach abstinence only.

With a maternal mortality in my country high, the World Health Organization has introduced many strategies that could reduce the many deaths. What is often overlooked is the fact that African women are intelligent enough to make their own choices, if those choices are indeed available.

The choices begin from negotiating for sex, using contraceptives and carrying a pregnancy especially where incest and rape are concerned. One of the statements made by Dr. Jean Kaggia, an anti-choice advocate from Kenya, at the Congress was that we needed more money to change behavior. How does one propose that a married woman should change behavior when her husband is the one who makes the decision of whether to go to hospital or not or worse still whether to use a condom or not?

Kenya is a country with 42 tribes, which have varying cultural beliefs — meaning we can't give a blanket solution to everyone.

I remember during the 2004 elections, many people in my country knew more about the politics of the US than knew what was happening in their own country's economy. I cannot claim to know exactly why Kenyans did not particularly like the reelection of Bush. People like Dr. Joachim Osur and other doctors who deal with family planning issues in Kenya and Africa would have much preferred a Democrat to win the election. For me it meant that we had to suffer another four years of this policy, which, interpreted by the Bush administration, meant a cut in spending on family planning.

Thanks to the global gag rule, many organizations that provided family planning services had to denounce abortion in writing and also not provide post abortion care. Most of them refused for good reason — but that meant that they lost critical funding for their organizations and the eventual result was a close down of clinics in major districts in the country. This in itself affected many women and of course ended up reducing the gains that had been made over the years in family planning and reduction of unintended pregnancies.

I always say this — give an African woman or any other woman choices and that will go along way in reducing unsafe abortions that have taken away the lives of many of my sisters, mothers and daughters on the continent.

So, yes — I am adding my voice to PPFA to tell all Americans to to vote for pro-choice candidates, especially for President.

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    Benjamin Franklin warned us that there would be men like those in the Bush administration when he said: “A man compounded of law and gospel is able to cheat a whole country with his religion and then destroy them under color of law.” The Kenyans who were against Bush being reelected must have known this, (among other wrong-headed moves made by this administration) and that’s why they were against his reelection, as was I and basically half of the US citizenry that voted.
    So compounded with law and their version of gospel, Bush and his thugs came up with the global gag rule, cheating your country’s women the right of free thought, choice and action, that no amount of petition signing has been able to sway. It doesn’t help when women, like Dr. Kaggia believe it is the government’s right to make laws with the intention of changing behaviour. Even if this were a viable assumption, your point that the husband ultimately has the control over his wife, renders those laws meaningless for women in general.
    The 42 different tribes with varying cultural beliefs is problematic. It seems to me, the women and more enlightened men of Kenya need to work together to change the belief systems of tribes that justify and rationalize any mistreatment of women and/or suppression of a women’s individual voice, choice and free will…I realize, however, that this is easier said than done. We’re still fighting ourselves as women in north america, to be treated as autonomous, sentient beings who can make up our own minds about our own lives.
    My best to you and your sisters, and I promise to campaign and fight and vote for a democratic president to go with the recently elected democratic congress, so hopefully, we can begin to reverse the damage done by the global gag rule. (It is appropriately named though, I gag every time I write the words.)