Experts Train Police On Protecting Women’s Reproductive Health
IN their blue crisp shirts on black trousers, they majestically matched into the hall, not to arrest anyone, but to learn how they can assist in protecting the reproductive health and rights of women.
Their guns gave way to pens at the comfortable hotel where they came to learn about women’s reproductive issues.
In there tens, the officers, including men and women, sat and listened as different reproductive health experts from Ipas spoke about women’s reproductive health and rights.
That was the scene in Lagos recently when Ipas, a reproductive health advocacy organisation, trained officers of the Nigeria Police Force from the Lagos State Command.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) reproductive health implies that people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safer sex life, and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.
One interpretation of this is that men and women ought to be informed of and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of birth control; access to appropriate health care services of sexual, reproductive medicine and implementation of health education programmes to stress the importance of women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth with the best chance of having healthy infants.
Ipas said officers of the Nigeria Police Force needed to be trained on reproductive health and rights issues because when cases of rape, incest, violence against women, abortion among others (which are components of reproductive health and rights) arise, the police are often first to be contacted to provide ‘treatment’ for such issues.
Like most of Ipas trainings for the medical communities in the past, Ipas Senior Policy Adviser, Ms Hauwa Shekarau, started with a real life example of how unplanned situations could force people to make decisions, which ordinarily they would never have contemplated.
Informing the trainees that scientific evidence had shown that violence might be genetic, Shekarau asked the audience what they would do if they were involved in a situation where the husband of the woman of the house impregnates a 15-year-old nanny, who is a distant relative of the wife.
The police officers, numbering about 33, were asked to choose from four available options: (1) termination of the pregnancy, (2) choice, which will allow them to go with the decision of the minor to have the pregnancy and do whatever she wants with the child, (3) keep the nanny and her baby in the family, and (4) give out the baby for adoption.
The different options, written in a cardboard paper, were placed on the wall of the cosy hotel room were the training took place, and police officers were asked to move to any of the options they would implement.
While six officers (representing 18 per cent of the population) chose termination of the pregnancy, 15 officers (representing 46 per cent of the officers) opted for choice option. But 10 officers (representing 30 per cent of the population) chose to keep the nanny and the resultant child in the family, just as two officers (representing 6 per cent of the officers) said they would give out the baby for adoption.
The officers, as if they were standing in judgment before God, fervently defended their choices. And like an unwavering judge, Shekarau stood in their midst ‘quizzing’ them over the choices. But there was no judgment from her, since it was not a morality contest.
Shekarau then moved to another real life story, asking the audience to imagine to be a husband with four children whose wife was raped and impregnated in his presence by a gang of armed robbers.
The reproductive rights activist then asked the participants to choose from the four options earlier mentioned. Like a meteorite, the participants switched options. While four (representing 12 per cent) went for choice, 21 of the participants (representing 64 per cent) chose termination of the pregnancy. But two of the participants (representing 6 per cent) chose to give the child out for adoption; just as six of the participants (representing 18 per cent) decided to keep the infant in the family.
Shekarau, who marveled at the change of opinion by different situations, said situations like these force some women to seek abortion.
The Ipas Senior Policy Adviser said it was easier to advice against abortion when one is not directly involved. Shekarau, who doubles as the President of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria, said the issue of abortion is an emotive one, adding that it was happening everyday.
She told the police officers that abortion, according to the Nigerian law, is not illegal but restrictive, since it is allowed when the life of the mother is in danger.
Shekarau said it was high time abortion law in Nigeria was changed to meet the realities of the time, as several women were using crude methods ranging from bicycle spoke to hanger among other deadly objects to terminate unwanted pregnancies, because the law does not give them access to abortion care.
“Law is not static, but it changes to suit the dynamics of the time. We need to take a look at our laws again, because the law on abortion is not helping matters. For instance, the same law that condemns the doctor who performs abortion also condemns the woman who procures abortion. But who will give evidence in the court of law? Instead of deterring people, abortion law is pushing people to be innovative to beat the law,” she said.
Shekarau said unsafe abortion is one of the most significant and preventable causes of maternal deaths and injury in Nigeria, adding that Nigerian women are dying from preventable causes because the society refuses to care for them.
agos State Commissioner of Police, Mr Kayode Aderanti, who was represented by Assistant Commissioner (AC) in charge of Training and Development in Lagos State, Mr Kunle Olusokan, said the training would go a long way in helping men and officers to protect women’s reproductive health and rights.
Aderanti said: “The world is changing. Rights are part and parcel of police work; we are the ones who are making sure that people’s rights are not trampled upon.”
On the challenge of enforcing women ‘s rights, the police boss said: “We noticed that the issue of violence against women is rampant in Nigeria. But there are laws that protect the women. That is why in cases of rape and defilement, we do not take them lightly. We investigate them thoroughly to charge people to court. So, the protection of women’s rights is one thing we take seriously.”
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