On Friday 11th May 2018, Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum in Partnership with Uganda Network of African Women Ministers and Parliamentarians (NAWMP), convened an orientation breakfast meeting, with East African Legislative Assembly-EALA country representatives, to orient them on the East African Community SRHR bill.

Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum, a youth led and youth serving organization, had the unique opportunity of participating in the drafting process of this bill, and country public hearing for Uganda. The bill was presented before the EALA parliament in Arusha, in 2017.

However, the bill encountered several challenges and raised controversies when it was tabled in 2017, thus, slowing down its approval process. For instance, some of the clauses in the bill like the clause regarding to access to contraceptives for adolescents, and the definition of an adolescents in the East African context, were greatly disputed. More so, the bill did not have a champion and mover since the initial mover of the bill, Hon. Nyamilimu of Rwanda, left EALA upon completion of her term.

It should be noted that, at the time (in 2017) of tabling the bill in the EALA Parliament, Uganda EALA members had not been given the opportunity to review and advice on the bill. Also, new members joined the EALA parliament, especially in Uganda, thus the need to introduce the bill to them and seek their support and commitment to champion it.

Therefore, Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum (UYAHF) organised and convened an orientation meeting to give the Uganda EALA members an over view of the bill, discuss the benefits that Uganda and the East African Community would realise as a result of passing this bill, and finally, attain a commitment from the members to re-table and champion the EAC SRHR bill.

The bill which is currently on the EALA shelves, intends to provide a legal framework for matters relating to SRHR, protection of children, adolescents and young people from sexual abuse, and other forms of exploitation, to provide for assisted reproductive technology and to provide for other matters related to reproductive maternal newborn and child health across the EAC borders.

The energy in the room clearly indicated that members were interested in having the bill passed and adopted by Partner states. However, they were also cognisant of the challenges that lie ahead, particularly the traditional, cultural and religious values, and regressive laws which sometimes undermine the right to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights.

The bill if passed into law, will seek to implement the EAC SRHR Strategic Plan that seeks to complement partner state’s SRHR strategies by providing a strategic direction towards universal access to SRHR facilities for all in the EAC region.

Hon. Dora Byamukama, a former EALA member and also previously an MP in the national parliament of Uganda in her “way forward” speech noted that, the previous EALA parliament staged the bill on the floor of the assembly but this does not guarantee that it will be tabled, hence, there is need for advocates to study and understand EALA procedures to revive the debate on the bill. She also added that, there was need to go on the record of the General Purpose Committee and find out country positions on this bill.

Hon. Dorah Byamukama sharing comments and recommendations during the EALA orientation meeting
Hon. Dorah Byamukama sharing comments and recommendations during the EALA orientation meeting

Furthermore, she noted that timing was important for any parliamentary procedure and hence, there was need to get this bill off the radar as soon as possible as it will require time to finalise. She also recommended that, there is need to gather enough evidence including facts and figures on SRHR for all the 6 EAC countries and develop a clear advocacy and communication strategy of engaging the EALA MPs.

Lastly, Hon. Dorah noted that, the bill needed champions from at least all partner states, who appreciate the needs of young people and are ready to push for laws that aim at improving the legal environment.

“NAWMP and other allies like PPD-ARO have a big network that you would also like to tap in” She concluded.

Hon. Spellanza Baguma sharing closing remarks during the EALA orientation meeting
Hon. Spellanza Baguma sharing closing remarks during the EALA orientation meeting

“As legislators, we commit to making SRH issues a priority at the floor of parliament and will do the needful when it comes to the SRHR Bill.” Hon. Baguma Spellanza.