By Evalin Karijo
According to the Ministry of Health, an estimated 62 per cent of Kenyan women use modern family planning methods, making them one of the top users of contraceptives in Africa.
By achieving this contraceptive prevalence rate, the country has surpassed its 2020 target of 58 per cent, signalling the gains made in entrenching contraceptive use over the last decade or so.
These are encouraging statistics, more so because harmful cultural norms and widespread misinformation have often resulted in low adoption of modern family planning methods.
This is especially true in rural areas, where factors such as lack of education about the benefits of contraceptives, poor accessibility to a variety of methods and patriarchal structures that enable men to determine whether their wives can use contraceptives, have in the past conspired to hinder family planning.
Historically, the argument for family planning has been linked to population growth. But the debate surrounding contraceptive use is not just about the politics of population as we’re often made to believe: It’s about women’s rights and the continued lack of agency over our own sexual and reproductive health.
Imagine not being allowed to decide whether to have children, how many children to have or when to have them. This is the reality for millions of women around the world, especially in countries where early marriage and limited access to education are common. Yet when women are denied the opportunity to exercise their sexual and reproductive health rights, families and economies suffer.
Family planning helps prevent unwanted pregnancies, enables women to have control over their fertility and reduces the number of women and infants dying at the time of giving birth.
It’s not about denying men the chance to have as many children as they want or encouraging immorality as some are wont to believe; it’s about helping parents to give their children a better quality of life and giving women a say over our bodies, which we shouldn’t even have to ask for in the first place.
Numerous studies have shown that countries perform better when women are empowered to play an active role in the workforce. When women have access to family planning, they are likely to stay in school longer, affording them better career opportunities and better income prospects.
The ripple effect of this is that women are then able to reach their potential, uplift their families, entire communities and accelerate society’s growth.
However, while contraceptive use has increased in many parts of the world adoption has been low in developing countries, where approximately 214 million women are not using any modern contraceptive methods due to factors such as limited choice, limited access to contraception and cultural or religious opposition.
Governments have a responsibility to provide quality, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services as an integral component of health care, which is what gatherings such as the recent International Conference on Population and Development Summit held recently in Nairobi advocate for.
They should also work with a broad base of stakeholders such as health professionals, civil society, parents and community leaders to create a strong legal and policy environment that promotes the right of men and women to be informed and have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable family planning methods of their choice.
That is why the Health ministry’s efforts to classify family planning supplies as strategic commodities of national importance, and the commitment to expand access to contraceptives so that every woman can have access to them as and when she wants to, is a major milestone for Kenya.
By achieving this, the 16.5 per cent of married Kenyan women who desire to use modern contraceptives but cannot access them, as stated by the recently released FP2020: Women at the Centre report, will be able to do so.
As a young woman myself, I understand intimately the importance of empowering the youth to exercise our right to make informed decisions about our sexual and reproductive health, and how this can contribute to economic growth.
But we can only do this if we have a health system that understands our needs and a societal system that is supportive of us reclaiming our rights over our bodies.
Such a system would also support the attainment of Universal Health Coverage and protect women’s right to sexual and reproductive health by giving access to the right information and variety of affordable choice.
It will also give women agency over our own bodies, which could become a reality if the Government follows through with these laudable efforts towards empowering us with access, choice, and freedom from stigma associated with contraceptive use.
Ms Karijo is the Amref Health Africa’s Project Director for Youth Advocacy Project