#whySHEmatters: Lack of SRHR Services and Information taking Lives of Young Women & Girls in Kenya

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*By Esther Kimani

“I am so afraid I do not know what to do, I wish I was more careful, what got into me really?”  –Troubled young woman in Nairobi, Kenya.

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Last night I went to visit my friend who had just given birth to a beautiful baby girl. Since the hospital was on the other side of town, the bus took a while to get to the central business district. It had rained heavily, flooding parts of the city. Cold and drenched, because of/despite of my small umbrella, I decided to go to a nearby fast food restaurant to eat. I was sure I wanted take-away to eat at home, but when I found an empty table upstairs I started on my garden salad with grilled chicken. 

Sitting close to me were two young women in their early twenties. They were excited and speaking in high tones, having fun. Sitting there alone munching my food, I could not help but overhear their juicy conversation.  It felt bad to know that I was eavesdropping on their discussion, but I kept on listening. They are both local university students. One is dating a rich man who has decided to buy her a car and she is very excited about it.

In the middle of their conversation, she whispered, “What do you think I should do about the pregnancy?”

Let’s call them Abby and Ally. Abby is pregnant and about to receive a car from this man. She is excited, but at the same time afraid because she is unsure what to do with her unplanned pregnancy. Ally told her, “I know that nurse in Kariobangi (one of Kenya’s urban informal settlements) who will help us. She helped so many other girls.”

“Is it safe?” Abby asked.

I am not sure,” said Ally.

“But it is the best option since we cannot go to other hospitals; if you tell Abel (Abby’s rich male friend) he will not accept responsibility and will not buy you the car.” From the side of my eye I could see how afraid and shaken Abby was. In a low tone she asked, “What if I die in the process? What will happen to me? Do I have any options? Why wasn’t I careful? How can I continue with my studies? Am I a bad person? What will happen to me if I decide to keep it?”

Sitting there I thought to myself, this is one of the many lived realities of young women and girls in Kenya. With lack of access to information and services about their sexual and reproductive health and rights, many of them make bad choices in such circumstances and end up losing their lives from unsafe abortions.

Statistics indicate that 29,000 abortions happen every year in Sub-Saharan Africa – translating to over 79 deaths every day. These lives can be saved. According to a 2012 study by the African Population and Health Research Center and its partners, in collaboration with Ipas and the Guttmacher Institute, nearly 465,000 induced abortions occurred in Kenya in 2012 – translating to a high national abortion rate of 48 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age (15-49 years). The findings also revealed that complications from unsafe abortions continue to pose a serious threat to Kenyan women’s health: nearly 120,000 women received care in health facilities for complications resulting from unsafe abortions in 2012.

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More shocking is that young women suffered disproportionately, with 45 percent of women aged 19 and younger who went to a health facility for post-abortion care having experienced severe complications. With a constitution that allows abortion only to save a woman’s life, and when performed by a health professional, many young women still lack access to safe abortion care services and information. If people do not start speaking out about these issues, many young women and girls like Abby will continue losing their lives.

If we do not demand action from the duty bearers, then we will continue having these gruesome statistics. The journey to change these realities and findings needs to start early, during adolescence. Abby’s life and many other women and girls in the same situation need to be saved, that is #whySHEmatters.

Imagine Abby, Ally and all young women in their early teens. Imagine if they had all the information needed in regards to their sexuality. Imagine them living in a country that has safe abortion services. Imagine them not worrying about unplanned pregnancies because they are empowered with information and have access to contraceptives. Imagine them actualising their dreams. Wouldn’t this be a safe space and country for them? Wouldn’t they participate fully in the development of the country? Wouldn’t they make informed choices about their sexuality? The answer is yes they would, and this is #TheKenyaWeWant #TheAfricaWeWant #The WorldWeWant.

*Esther Kimani is a feminist, a human rights activist and a psychological counselor. Connect with her on Twitter at @kelsiekim.

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About FEMNET

FEMNET (The African Women's Development and Communication Network) is a pan African, feminist organisation working to advance the rights of women and girls in Africa. FEMNET has carved a niche in Informing and mobilizing African women in order for them to participate and influence policies and processes that affect their lives. FEMNET has hundreds of members in over 40 countries in Africa as well as in the diaspora. It has played a critical role in building the women's movement in Africa since inception in 1988.

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