DR CONGO: Sexual and Reproductive Health Care for Women & Girls for 28 Sept

On October 1, 2015, Pathfinder International together with the National Program of Youth and Adolescents (PNSA) organized an event in Kinshasa, DRC to celebrate September 28. The event centered on the issue of unwanted pregnancy, and aimed to generate fresh ideas to create suitable policy, community and service delivery environments for better access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for young girls and women. There were more than 70 attendees, including members of the Congolese Government, civil society, Pathfinder’s partner advocacy and community organizations, university and college representatives. Media from TV and radio covered the event.

In the DRC, whose penal code criminalizes all abortions, unsafe abortion is common.

Reports from two studies were presented on sexual and reproductive health for young people: one by PNSA and Pathfinder; the other by Médécins du Monde.

Beatrice Mbayo of Pathfinder and Mbadu Muanda, Director of PNSA, presented the first, covering sexual- and gender-based violence, unsafe abortion, and safe abortion advocacy. “We want to get a sense of the health priorities of young women ages 15-24,” said Mbayo. “Where do they go for health services, perceptions about health providers’ negative attitudes and quality of care and gaps in youth-friendly services.” A survey among more than 500 young women found that of those who were sexually active, 30% had already had at least one abortion. In 26% of cases, respondents were in favor of abortion when sex was forced. These results were used to craft a program to build the capacity of health providers to deliver gender-based violence services that include youth-friendly post-abortion care and harm reduction strategies.

Due to decades of war and poverty, sexual- and gender-based violence is a poignant reality in the DRC, causing women, adolescents, and children increased vulnerability, poverty, morbidity, and mortality, as well as increased unintended pregnancies. Often, violence starts during girlhood and spans a woman’s life. A 2013 report claims that 71% of women in the DRC have experienced some form of intimate partner violence. Sexual violence, including forced sex within marriage, is also common: 64% of girls aged 15-19 reported a non-consensual sexual initiation (DR Congo DHS 2007 and MICS 2010), and 33% of married adolescents and young women reported sexual violence from their husband (DRC: Summary of Data on Girls, DFID 2013). The reality of the situation is shown in the DRC’s poor progress towards achieving Millennium Development Goals 3 and 5.

Gaëlle Fonteyne of Médécins du Monde presented data from two studies on unwanted pregnancy conducted in Kinshasa by PNSA on negative norms that create barriers for youth trying to access services.

Professor Nguma Monganza, a gynecologist and researcher at Les Cliniques Universitaires de Kinshasa, presented clinical experience of the management of unwanted pregnancies in DRC hospitals, focusing on youth and adolescents. Well-known in the DRC for his work promoting access to family planning and post abortion care, he believes the poor clinical care offered to this group contributes significantly to the overall mortality of pregnant adolescents.

Ebeka Pelagie, a lawyer and women’s human rights defender, reviewed the legal status of abortion in the DRC and opportunities for advocacy around the right to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services including abortion, recommending beginning with special circumstances such as rape or incest (citing Article 14 of the Maputo Protocol, signed and ratified by the DRC government ). “Particular attention must be paid to the health of adolescents, as they are the leaders of tomorrow.”

Participants then took part in a reflective debate on abortion in the DRC. Participants thought more work was needed to understand the problems young people face. But all agreed that young people deserve information to allow them the freedom of choice regarding their sexual and reproductive health. They agreed to do their part in developing an enabling environment where family members and communities develop communication strategies to pass on accurate information to young people regarding safe sex behaviors. Importantly, the National Adolescent Health Program of the Ministry of Health advocated for the rights of women and girls to youth-friendly SRH services.

TV segment of the event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al_hW84_uZs