The 10th African Conference on Sexual Health and Rights was held in Freetown, Sierra Leone, June 27-July 1. Almost 1,000 feminist activists, government and U.N. personnel, and representatives of development agencies and community groups met to discuss how to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence in Africa. Half the attendees were under 24 years old.
Sierra Leone has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the world; almost a third of women in the country between the ages of 15 and 19 get pregnant. And with 1,120 deaths per 100,000 births, Sierra Leone has the third highest rate of maternal fatalities in the world. The country’s laws governing women’s rights and maternal health date back to 1861, during the colonial period.
Sierra Leone activists have worked for years to expand access to reproductive health care, decriminalize abortion and provide for safe motherhood. The World Health Organization helped draft the bill that was unanimously approved by the president and his cabinet in July; it is now before the parliament.
Josephine Kamara, a feminist activist from Sierra Leone, said: “This is a landmark moment for girls and women in this country, and it shows we are now building a world where we can live in the most basic of dignities: to make choices over our own bodies.” (The Guardian, July 6)
At a time when sexual and reproductive health rights for women in the U.S. are massively threatened, Sierra Leone is moving ahead.