Are you familiar with the Ugandan 14-seater commuter taxi otherwise known as the kamunye? If yes, then you can almost relate to 16 women in Uganda dying everyday due to maternal health related complications. That is an entire kamunye of women with two extra passengers losing their lives with little or no accountability whatsoever from the health authorities, and those are just the reported cases. What is even scarier is that could be you, your mother, your sister and if you are male, your wife as several women across the country continue to die from preventable complications such as severe bleeding, high blood pressure, sepsis, obstructed labor, unsafe abortion, among others. Many others have survived pregnancy and childbirth, but with complications such as fistula rearing their heads and robbing the nation of its womankind.
Following the continued deaths of mothers at numerous health facilities across the country and the unexpected passing of Ms. Nuliat Nambazira in April, a women’s rights advocate with the East African Sub-regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI), a lady who heartily stood for women’s justice, civil society organizations resolved that enough was enough and rose up to advocate for critical intervention by the Ugandan government as far as reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health is concerned. Women’s rights organizations and individuals came out to demand for an urgent end to the needless preventable deaths of mothers and newborns during pregnancy, childbirth and the immediate period after birth.
Akina Mama wa Afrika provided leadership in the campaign to end maternal mortality in Uganda by guiding in the process of designing a 12 months advocacy strategy to hold the government, healthcare providers and practitioners accountable over their negligence of women’s health and not providing mothers with the necessary services to not only help them survive but also thrive during pregnancy and child birth. Among some of the activities were a press conference hosted at the National NGO Forum offices which was reinforced with a protest march to International Hospital Kampala, one of the hospitals cited in mishandling women’s maternal health. The press conference garnered over 40 passionate activists and a number of media outlets who provided coverage for the event sparking off public debate. In order to fashion further discussion on the issue of women’s sexual and reproductive health rights, AMwA also hosted a tweet chat using the hashtag #ItCouldBeYou in which a resourceful panel comprising of the Center for Health Human Rights and Development’s (CEHURD) Primah Kwagala, EASSI’s Manisurah Aheebwa and Dr. Ekwaro Obuku of the Uganda Medical Association was convened. Through the tweet chat, AMwA in collaboration with the Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG) was able raise the public’s consciousness that anyone to could be a victim of maternal death with the hashtag generating more than 6 million impressions on Twitter.
Three months down the road, despite progress made by the government in ensuring that women deliver at health facilities under skilled care, there is urgent need to improve quality of care provided at the health facilities to enable women survive pregnancy and childbirth. As civil society, we re-echo our demand that the Ugandan government through the Ministry of Health and other relevant agencies improves supervision of private and public health facilities to ensure better adherence to quality of care standards. We cannot take justice for mothers and newborns for granted any longer. Without addressing the concerns of the nation’s women, pregnant women and newborns will continue to suffer preventable and treatable complications and death.
Like all life’s experiences, there were lessons for us too. Because of the shrinking civic and political space, coupled with unfavorable policies on sexual and reproductive health in Uganda, mobilizing women to join in protest was difficult as there was fear of retribution. Resource mobilization was also challenging as the activity was ad hoc. What then for feminist organizing? AMwA revisited the advocacy strategy with the collective in an effort to polish it and decide on the way forward for the other actions within the strategy. Going forward, there is need for capacity building in movement building in activism to advance fearless advocacy for women’s and girls’ rights.