In October 2020, my graduate school program director, Professor Morrison, shared with me an article she had come across in the Washington Post. It was the story of baby Blessing. A new-born who had been rescued from a dumpsite in Kibera in the dead of the night where her mother had dumped her.
As I read the article, my mind swarm with several theories of what could have driven Blessing’s biological mother to give her up. It was obvious that Blessing was the result of an unplanned pregnancy. Before I could let her sad story settle in my mind, I received another article from a friend. The article highlighted the role the US has played in access to family planning and other reproductive health services in Kenya during the Trump administration. (Hopefully, things will change now that the more progressive President Biden is in the Oval Office.)
The Trump administration severely restricted access to reproductive health around the world. He reinstated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, restricting U.S. foreign aid funding for international health programs that provide or even mention abortion. He further defunded the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a global maternal health organization that provides contraception and pregnancy care to low-income women in 150 countries.
Kenya has its own reproductive health structures and policies and relies on regional policies such as the African Union Continental Policy Framework on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights. However, the US government and other US-based organizations heavily fund a lot of reproductive health structures and facilities in Kenya. This, therefore, means that progress or deterioration of reproductive health rights in the US, directly affects reproductive health in Kenya. Based on the foregoing, it is no surprise when we see Kenyan women having to beg to have their contraceptive devices removed after having them installed for free.
Being dependent on foreign aid for basics such as contraception is not only detrimental to the women and girls of Kenya but also demonstrates the failure of the government to adequately protect the reproductive health rights of women and girls in Kenya. While the rate of use of contraceptives has steadily increased from 2012 to date as demonstrated by statistics from Family Planning 2020, there are still women who have no access to or knowledge of the use of contraceptives.
Unfortunately, women in informal settlements are disproportionately affected as compared to women in formal settlements. Women in informal settlements often lack the financial capacity as well as adequate knowledge to have access to and use of contraceptives. Myths and misconceptions about contraceptives further dissuade women from using contraceptives. This lack of access and information often results in unintended and unwanted pregnancies, which then sometimes result in unsafe abortions which could be fatal.
There has been an unending debate on whether to have information on contraceptives for girls in school. During the peak of the COVID 19 pandemic the number of teenage pregnancies was at an all-time high.
The three months of lockdown saw 152,000 Kenyan teenage girls became pregnant, a 40 percent increase in the monthly average. This indicates the need to have information disseminated not only to adults but to adolescents as well. The alarming increase rate should serve as a wakeup call to the government and stakeholders. It is an indication of the need to invest in information on family planning and the relevant services.
The Kenyan government needs to take steps towards ensuring that the existing reproductive health structures work to create an environment where women’s reproductive health rights are protected. I understand that there arises a conflict between human rights such as access to reproductive health and the Christian conservative nature of the country which make it difficult to deal with reproductive health issues. We, however, need to realize that reproductive health issues are here with us and unless we find a realistic and durable situation, i.e. policies and laws, they will only get worse. It is, after all, a duty owed to the women and girls of Kenya by their government.