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African Governments Must Honor Previous Commitments To Women’s Rights, Health

“Significant global and regional progress has been made to reduce the number of preventable maternal deaths: data released in 2012 by the United Nations shows that the number of women worldwide dying of pregnancy and childbirth-related complications has almost halved in the last 20 years,” but sub-Saharan Africa “bears a disproportionate burden of maternal mortality” and “the progress is still too slow and uneven,” Agnes Odhiambo and Gauri Van Gulik, researchers with the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, write in an Inter Press Service opinion piece. They discuss their research and interviews with young women “who knew too little about sexuality and family planning when they were forced into marriage and pregnancy,” and they write, “In addition to the unacceptably high numbers of women who die, African women also suffer disproportionately from childbirth injuries.”

“As the African Union (AU) celebrates 50 years of existence on May 25, it should put a spotlight on the human rights of African women and girls,” Odhiambo and Van Gulik write. They note the 2003 Maputo Protocol, which “calls on governments to protect the reproductive rights of women,” as well as “many other commitments and declarations, at least on paper, promoting maternal health in Africa.” They continue, “While these commitments are important, it is time African governments be held accountable for failing to meet them.” According to the authors, “While the AU recognizes that member states have not done enough to reduce maternal deaths, there is no effective monitoring and reporting mechanism at the regional level on what countries are doing to fulfill their promises, and where they are lacking. Establishing such a mechanism could enable countries to identify failings and needs, and to learn from each other’s best practices” (5/19).