Reproductive health key to women empowerment
During last November’s International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25), Kenya made several commitments to better the lives of women and girls within the next 10 years.
This ranged from addressing violence against women and harmful practices to children, ending Female Genital Mutilation, forced marriages and achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health as a part of universal health coverage.
Article 43 of the Constitution gives every person the right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to reproductive health care.
ICPD 1994 elaborates reproductive healthcare as a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely absence of disease in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes.
This right includes access to family planning services to empower women to control the number and spacing of children, access to maternal health services and all other obstetric and gynecological services to enable them to safely exercise their reproductive health functions.
Stigma around use of contraceptives is largely fed by gender stereotypes that imply that women should priotise childbearing and child caring over all other roles and aspirations.
This stigma has served to erase and disguise legitimate health services, discredit those who would provide and undermine those who advocate for its legality and accessibility.
The roots of such stigma that intend to control female sexuality are based on social constructs that should be deconstructed.
I have seen many bright futures stolen by teenage pregnancies. I have watched the village shame pregnant teenagers.
I have seen girls drop out of school and coerced into teenage marriages and abusive relationships because they became pregnant ‘by mistake’.
This happens throughout Kenya especially among rural communities because teenagers and young women continue to be denied access to information and services related to their sexual and reproductive health rights.
They are met by hostile, judgmental nurses and doctors in clinics who dismiss them as too young to need contraceptives.
Schools don’t teach both genders how to negotiate safe sex or even the basics of fertility and reproduction leaving myths and misconceptions to be their only source of information.
For a moment, close your eyes. Now imagine a world where all people have equal rights and privileges; a world where women and girls walk alone in a dimly lit street with heads up high.
In this perfect world, men and boys are not trapped in oppressive masculinities.
In this perfect world, gender equality is the norm, men and women get equal pay for work of equal value and share work at home.
Can you imagine equality in political leadership and corporate world, where women have equal say in decisions that affect their lives, bodies, policies, and their environment? That’s the world I want.
You share this sentiment? Let us have this conversation. Let us talk contraceptives. Let’s discuss maternal mortality.
Let’s stop using a language that blames victims of gender-based violence. Let’s not objectify women and make them feel safe. — The writer is a programmes assistant at Transparency International-Kenya.