By John B. Thawite in Kampala

Many women who experience disrespect and abuse during child birth are less likely to seek skilled health care in future,” the UN Women Country Representative in Uganda, Anna Mutavati, has warned. “Access to rights-based maternal care services and respectful maternity care are essential to women's sexual and reproductive health rights,” Anna Mutavati said Monday.

“Evidence shows that access to health care alone is not enough to promote maternal health and decrease maternal morbidity and mortality,” Mutavati said. She was opening a three-day citizen reporter advocate training held at the Makerere College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (CEDAT), Kampala.

The training, organised and sponsored by White Ribbon Alliance, Uganda, attracted 35 participants, including journalists, from Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda. Citizen reporting focuses on capturing the views of communities and on matters of sexual reproductive health (SRH) and developing their capacity to hold their leaders accountable.

Mutavati urged the participants to use the training to mobilise citizens and to enable the citizens to demand for their rights and hold government and all duty bearers to account. She warned that young women and girls are at heightened risk of complications and death during pregnancy and child birth if health care services are faulty. “These complications are the leading cause of death among girls in developing communities like Uganda,” she added. She also warned against child marriage and taboos on adolescent sexuality contribute to teenage pregnancies by denying girls rights the power, information and tools to postpone child-bearing.

Mutavati emphasized that young girls must participate in decision-making and programming, particularly when the decisions that are being made affect their lives. She urged the participants to push for the better mainstreaming of sexual and reproductive health for girls and women, come the post-2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs), a successor agenda to the Millennium development Goals that expire around.

“Harmful traditional practices and misinterpretation and misuse of traditions, customs and religion continue to hold back progress,” Mutavati noted. Gender equality, women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health rights must be central to the new global development framework. “We need advocates that are well informed and skilled to influence policy makers at national, regional and international levels,” Anna Mutavati urged the trainees.

Citing the Convention on Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the ICPD and the Beijing Platform for action, Mutavati said women have a right to decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.

“There is no doubt that the post-2015 development framework must recognize that lack of control that women and girls have over their own bodies and reproductive choices is a serious violation of their rights,” she said. She added that this violation accounts for some of the biggest constraints to achieving their rights and capacities in other areas. Sexual and reproductive health is one of the most transformative elements for the achievement of sustainable economic, social and environmental development.

The Executive Director Action for Community Development, Obed Kabanda, who is also chairperson WRA Uganda, described sexual and reproductive health rights as inherent.
“You are not entitled to rights on the basis of colour, gender, political affiliation. Rights are discrimination-free,” Kabanda said. He criticised health workers who often mock pregnant women with disabilities who seek health care when they get pregnant.

“We often get complaints that health workers are disrespectful to pregnant women more so for women living with disabilities. Kabanda urged the particiants to acquaint themselves with the various national regional and international conventions that advocate for sexual and reproductive health if they have to be effective in their advocacy.

Martin Ninsiima, the Communication and Advocacy Manager, UN Women, cautioned the participants against portraying sexual and reproductive heath issues by mere numbers but to give numbers a human face and use of human interest stories.

Robina Biteyi, the WRA Uganda regional Coordinator, cautioned the particiants to avoid being confrontational in advancing the sexual and reproductive health agenda. She urged government to increase the health budget that currently stands at a paltry 7%. This is likely to frustrate the forth-coming SDGs. Facilitators at the training include Brigid McConville and Maeve Shearlaw, both from The Guardian Newspaper, Cathy Mwesiga from New Vision. ENDS