We should not tolerate online disinformation when lives of millions of women are at stake

We should not tolerate online disinformation when lives of millions of women are at stake

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A new report published by a section of the media last week revealed that CitizenGO, a conservative advocacy group based in Spain and operating in Kenya, paid local youth to spread disinformation about reproductive health in Kenya in 2020 and 2021.

The report by the Mozilla Foundation, outlined how influencers try to manipulate Twitter’s “Trending Topic” feature to shape public discourse.

The online influencers targeted multiple reproductive health topics and proposed laws, seeking to discourage the public and legislators from discussing, let alone endorsing the said bills.

As we approach the General Elections in August, we must be vigilant and alert as we are bound to see a surge in disinformation and misinformation online in many interest groups’ quest to sway public opinion and secure votes.

The most recent disinformation campaign by CitizenGO targeted the East Africa Community (EAC) Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Bill, 2021.

This is a progressive bill that was introduced to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) in June 2021 and is sponsored by Hon. Kennedy Mukulia of South Sudan.

The bill aims at preventing senseless deaths for mothers, promoting safe motherhood, educating the youth and giving better quality reproductive health services to all.

The proposed law also respects the traditional cultural values, recognizes the role of parental guidance and includes pivotal roles for religious institutions and is in compliance with all the legal regulations of all six states.

Online attacks by sponsored influencers dubbed the bill an “abortion bill” and vilified any legislator who even seemed to consider the bill.

Unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal deaths. In areas where abortion is restricted or illegal, backstreet abortion cases are high, and they often end up in permanent injury or death of the woman.

But abortion is not only a public health concern globally and particularly in Kenya but also a sensitive and contentious issue in regards to religion, moral and political dimensions. In this regard, many providers are reluctant to offer abortions, even in legitimate, constitutionally sanctioned cases, because of the uncertainty regarding whether they would be legally backed and protected.

Furthermore, the majority of unintended pregnancies among Sub-Saharan adolescents occur due to an unmet need for modern contraception.

The EAC SRH Bill, 2021 seeks to harmonize partner state laws on reproductive health and guarantees the right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy as per each country’s constitution.

Article 26(4) of Kenya’s constitution, for instance, permits abortion if in the opinion of a health professional, there is need for emergency, treatment, the pregnancy endangers the mental or physical health or life of the woman, in the case of sexual assault, rape, and incest or as may be permitted by any other law.

Under section 6 of the proposed regional law, each Partner State is expected to integrate sexual and reproductive health services in the universal health coverage (UHC).

Further, each Partner State is required to provide adequate, quality, accessible and where they are not free, affordable, sexual and reproductive health services to facilitate the realization of the highest attainable standard of health by every person and that services provided in the public and private sector are lawful, safe and effective.

Spreading misleading information particularly in Kenya as we head for election is not only unethical, but it poses a clear and present danger to the lives of women when the object of attack is a life-saving piece of legislation.

Ms. Kathia is a reproductive health advocate at Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa (NAYA) Kenya.