Let’s start off with some good news- Cameroun joined 27 other African countries in promoting the health and rights of women when it ratified the Maputo Protocol on May 28th, 2009. The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, better known as the Maputo Protocol, guarantees the human rights of women throughout the continent. Adopted by the African Union in 1993, the Protocol calls for the adoption and implementation of national measures that uphold women’s sexual and reproductive rights, political and social equality, and the right to live free from violence and coercion, while providing a comprehensive legal framework for holding African governments accountable for violations.
Sadly, the reaction in the Camerounian press to the ratification of the Protocol has been largely negative, and predominately based on false information and deliberate obfuscation on the part of the Catholic Church. The National Episcopal Conference of Cameroun released a press statement denouncing Article 14 of the Protocol, which calls on State parties to “protect the reproductive rights of women by authorizing medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus.”
The release, which the prelates accuse of giving “abusive reproductive rights” to women, is actually far more measured than the church’s reaction in other fora has been. At a demonstration against the ratification on July 11, Cardinal Christian Tumi, Archbishop of Douala, once again condemned abortion as “an abomination” and conflated abortion with gay marriage, despite the absence of gay rights from the actual Maputo Protocol.
Many protesters showed similar confusion, recently highlighted on the popular television program Cartes Sur Table, which dedicated its June 23rd episode to the controversy. Speaking on behalf of the Catholic International Press Union of Africa, Abbot Antoine Depadoue Chonang insisted that the Maputo Protocol is a “trojan horse” for homosexual rights. Fortunately, Cartes Sur Table also featured Ms. Alice Nkom, the president of the Association for the Defense of Homosexuality, or ADEFHO, who spoke eloquently on the need for Cameroun to step out from under the influence of the Catholic Church and recognize the human and civil rights of all its citizens, including sexual minorities and women. ADEFHO will continue its public information campaign to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights. As part of its advocacy campaign, ADEFHO is calling upon other women’s rights organizations in Cameroun to reclaim control of the debate over the Maputo Protocol and place it back firmly where it belongs: in the hands of the women who need it.
Click here for a full report of the June 23 edition of Cartes Sur Table in PDF form.
To learn more about IWHC’s work on women’s sexual and reproductive rights and health in Cameroun, click here.
To learn more about IWHC’s regional advocacy on sexual and reproductive rights and health, click here.
Chelsea Ricker is the Africa Program Assistant at the International Women’s Health Coalition. Read her bio here.