I belong to a generation of young people known to be the largest ever and the most educated. Yet, despite all the positive attributes, we still face challenges, including strong cultural barriers, that make us vulnerable in our sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). In August 2018, I spoke to one of our E4A Mama Ye family planning champions in Kenya, who, until recently, had a strong stand against the use of family planning.
ELIJAH, A STORY OF CHANGE
Elijah* (not his real name) has 5 children; four girls and one boy. Three of his four daughters dropped out of school when they fell pregnant.
I used to think that giving my children information about their sexual and reproductive health will make them promiscuous and [cause them to] lose their values
Adolescent pregnancy and childbearing are common in Kenya. Almost a quarter of Kenyan women give birth by the age of 18 (DHS 2014) and nationally 1 out of every 5 girls aged 15-19 has begun childbearing or is pregnant with her first child. Despite an improvement in Kenya’s contraceptive prevalence rate (58%, DHS 2014) unmet need amongst youth remains high across all 47 counties.
Strong cultural barriers and a lack of basic knowledge have continued to stand in the way of equipping adolescents with information about SRHR and family planning. E4A-Mama Ye works to challenge these perceptions and improve knowledge using sound evidence. Understanding and working together with community members, like Elijah, is crucial to effecting this change: “In many social gatherings, our community discourages any conversation about these issues. That is considered a taboo subject, no parent would be bold enough to start such a conversation with their children. Some are trying. At least in my family, my wife and children are informed.”
I asked Elijah what made him think differently. He tells me that his homestead is a few meters from a community health dispensary. The health facility had engaged community health volunteers and equipped them with skills and knowledge about family planning: “I was sensitised about the importance of family planning by a community health volunteer who visited our home during their community outreach. Through frequent visits, two or three, I was convinced that it’s the right thing for my family.”
The health facility had a youth friendly corner, and was stocked with a choice of contraceptives. Elijah encouraged his children to visit. His daughters had no knowledge on contraceptive use by the time they had their first pregnancy. On visiting the youth friendly corner, they had the opportunity to get family planning information.
For the first time, they have control of their choices. They have all chosen long lasting and reversible contraceptive methods.
I always urge my three older girls to educate their youngest sister with sexual and reproductive health education. She is a bright young girl in school and hopes to become a nurse one day. I always tell her to learn lessons from her older sisters.
CHANGING MISCONCEPTIONS ON SRHR
When speaking to Elijah, I felt a lot of admiration and hope. He is now one of the most vocal and enthusiastic male champions for family planning in his county. In August 2018, together with 14 other champions, he received a training by E4A-Mama Ye on ‘How to be a family planning champion’.
I asked Elijah what inspired him to become a family planning champion.
I was identified by the County Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Officer to be part of a training by E4A Mama Ye. She recognised the enthusiasm and vigour I put into community gatherings to speak about family planning.
Elijah has a strong, outgoing personality and everyone in the community can speak of his burning passion about family planning:“I talk to many people, especially adolescents. I always tell them the story of my three daughters and how they should take control of their choices.”
Thanks to the hard work of champions like Elijah, communities are gradually changing their perceptions on SRHR and family planning. E4A Mama Ye works in partnership with Bungoma County Government to ensure that those who choose to access services are greeted by trained health workers, stocked cupboards, and the information they need to have control of their futures.
By embracing a family planning method of their choice, my teenage girls would stay in school longer, pursue their education goals and realise their dreams of becoming teachers. Contraceptive use has given them a chance to plan for their future.