Centre co-host Helen Kanzira Annual Memorial Lecture with University of Lagos

Posted on June 30, 2020

The 2020 Helen Kanzira Lecture co-hosted by the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa and the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Lagos-Nigeria had the theme: Gender Inequalities, Social Inequities and Maternal Deaths. The Helen Kanzira Lecture series, which is held annually memorialises one of the pioneer students of the Master’s in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa programme who passed away as a result of pregnancy-related complications and provides a platform for assessing the situation of reproductive health rights of women in Africa.

The event opened with comments from the Moderator, Professor Oluyemisi Bamgbose, SAN, Professor Ayodele Atsenuwa (Dean, Faculty Law, UNILAG) and Professor Frans Viljoen (Director of the Centre) as well as Mr. Ernest Wiltshire, who is the surviving spouse of Ms. Helen Kanzira.   

The Lecture featured three speakers who examined and analysed the impact of unequal gender and social relations on women’s access to maternal health care services in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The Lead Speaker, Professor Friday Okonofua, who is a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Reproductive Health at the University of Benin, identified what he termed the ‘Triangle of Neglect’ consisting of technical, political and social norms as the bane of maternal mortality in SSA. He proposed social equity and gender equality as the solution to the intractable problems of maternal mortality in SSA. His presentation also highlighted innovative interventions from across Nigeria which could serve as models.   

The second Speaker, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, who is a human rights law lecturer and gender activist adopted a human rights-based approach to interrogating the challenge of maternal mortality in SSA and making proposals for addressing the problem. She identified gender inequalities in access to quality health services and economic inequalities as the major drivers of maternal mortality in SSA. She noted that there are adequate international standards to propel action for protecting maternal health and rights under international, regional and domestic human rights frameworks and called on all actors to hold governments to their obligations under these instruments using diverse mechanisms.

The third Speaker, Ms Hauwa Shekarau, who is also a lawyer and gender advocate, identified discrimination against women in the area of education, health, personal autonomy as well as social norms, laws and practices which discriminate against women and girls as major factors driving maternal mortality in SSA. She spoke to the particular importance of promoting girl-child education; provision of effective and efficient health care systems, especially during pregnancy and delivery; access to safe drinking water; equal opportunities for women in employment and the abolition of discriminatory laws and practices against women, etc. as fundamental pillars of maternal health in SSA.

Participants had the opportunity of asking questions and proffering suggestions which served to further enriched the conversation.

- Author Centre for Human Rights
Published by Simphiwe Khumalo

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