Let women make own reproductive health choices
The reaction to the national population census report released on Monday, is not entirely surprising. It is typically Kenyan to do with so much fury that often ebbs, signifying little! For those analysing the report with political lenses, it is about how the numbers affect them and their regions in resource allocation and representation.
But what I find curious is the insinuation that women should give birth to swell the numbers of voters. While most African communities believe that giving birth is the primary role of women—and thus see them as baby making machines—they fail to appreciate that women embody much more in the society.
One of the most disturbing calls following the census report release was for women to give up contraception to get as many children as possible. Such comments came from male politicians-—of course—who are ignorant of the joy and burden of motherhood and that pregnancy in itself is a risk, especially in a country where maternal mortality stands at 488 deaths per every 100,000 live births per year.
It is even sad that such pronouncements ignore the prevailing conditions for many women in the country. For starters, women in some counties still have little or no say in the number of children they have, which exposes them to many risks including emotional and physical risks, including those occasioned by unspaced pregnancies such as the threat of premature births.
It’s worth noting that such ignorant pronouncements have potential to stir gender-based violence given the power some politicians wield over some of their supporters. Where a politician’s word is viewed as gospel truth, women could be in trouble if they hold a contrary opinion.
In some cases, women live in abject poverty, which compromises their capacity to give birth to healthy children and nurture them to maturity. For a politician to even remotely hint that such a woman has failed in boosting number of voters , it reeks of selfishness and warped sense self-entitlement that is characteristic of most politicians.
But it is not all gloom. The Census figures indicated a drop in average household size from 5.1 to 3.9 within 10 years; an indication that the efforts in education on reproductive health rights and provision of better reproductive health services to women are bearing fruit.
This means more women now have a say in the number of children they have and can access family planning options that allow them to space their children without jeopardising others aspects of their lives, such as careers.
The census figures could not have been released at a better time, with the International Conference on Population and Development set to be held in Nairobi next week.
The forum will assess the milestones achieved since the first such meeting in 1994 in Cairo, which put women at the centre of sexual and reproductive health in bid to increase access to such services, reducing maternal health and end harmful practices that compromise women’s wellbeing.
In light of the above, it’s not only careless, but reckless to ask women to give up on this choice for the benefit of a select view. It is unfortunate that the census data, which should inform planning and equitable sharing of resources is being viewed-—by some—in terms of votes. The figures should be used to pursue the elusive gender parity in a society where women remain underrepresented despite being more than half of the population.
The writer is Features sub-editor, People Daily