This morning’s plenary session on maternal health and family planning was sleepy. We were herded into a lovely room reserved for the parliament at the Palaise Des Congress Yaounde. Plush red carpet, velvet drapes waved heavily with the slow, small breeze. out the window I can see the hills Yaounde is built on. It is beautiful, it is tragic. I am listening to the presentations. Rote and cursory overviews by grumpy old men about women’s lady parts (where have I seen this before?).
Presentation Done. Audience claps. The floor opens for questions and discussion.
A beautiful, young Cameroonian woman with magenta streaks through her straight black hair takes the mic.
She says (no, demands) – I want to address the doctors the honorable members of the panels, when we talk about family planning why are we not talking about the condoms? Where are the condoms? These need to be available to the women for family planning and for protection from HIV and stds – where are the condoms?
She was on fire!
She thanked the panel for listening and took her seat. (More on her in a pending article.)
The crowd erupted in applause. Not the piss-poor compulsory applause we gave the speakers. This was legit.
There have been moments of brightness in this conference. Among the panels discussing the wretched practice of child brides and female genital mutilations there are mentions of abortion rights, the need to preserve the life of the mother by ending illegal abortion. In the discussions of sexual rights where panel members are clearly avoiding the LGBT question (how do we address their needs for medical care and human rights?) another audience member stands up to say why do you act like homosexuality doesn’t exist? why do we act like homosexuality is new to Africa? We cannot address sexual rights with out homosexual rights. We cannot (wild applause)!
This – it occurs to me – is radical. Homosexuality is illegal here and around Africa (and the world). For Cameroon people speaking out in this forum where there are senators, USAID representatives, members of the United Nations Family Planning association and many other persons of import is groundbreaking.
This fact is both incredibly sad and fabulously encouraging.
Then to the Ministry of Justice (more later), the Papal Nuncio (much more later) and the federally funded drop in clinic for sex workers (tons more on this soon).
Off I get.