By Wyclif Oguma

Kenyans face several challenges including poverty, disease, unemployment and negative civic engagement amongst others. These challenges become bigger and heavier when it’s a Kenyan woman.  One problem which a Kenyan woman starts to experience from an early age and will hold till old age is reproductive health problems.

Reproductive health has been one of the notorious challenges facing our women. Traditionally, it is believed that a woman should learn about her changing body and experience from either her grandmother or mother. The biggest challenge comes when the supposed teacher is either dead for the case of a grandmother or has a lot on her plate to deal with when it comes to the mother.  A Kenyan mother can spend the whole day fending for the family, come home in the evening to prepare food and make sure that everybody is well and safe to sleep. To put it simply, a Kenyan mother is the first to wake and the last to go to bed. With all these responsibilities placed on the mother’s shoulders, the little girl that needs educating about her changing body may just go unnoticed.

This leaves the girl with only surprises in her life. When she gets her first period, it’s a surprise, in this surprise she don’t even know what to use as a sanitary towel. It’s at this moment when she meets her first nightmare and the fear of soiling herself and being laughed at by peers becomes a reality. This fear is a blow to her personality and social development and its effects will definitely be noticed in her future growth and development as some might choose not go to school or even hide from the public during this entire period.

When she grows up and gets ready for marriage, the second reproductive health challenge sets in. Kenyan culture still believes that it’s the woman’s responsibility to get pregnant and bring a baby to the world. This belief comes to life when the woman gets married and doesn’t have children straight away. The woman’s productivity will be questioned and put under much scrutiny, both her in-laws and parents will always put pressure on her to have a baby and secure her place in her new family; during this period nobody dares question the productivity of her husband. Her second surprise around this time won’t stop here but continues when she one sex (male or female) as she’ll then be put on the sword to bring the other gender to prove her strength as a woman.

Even after going through all of the above surprises, the woman might still not even have the opportunity or option of making a choice as to how many children she can have. Society will still push her hard to have as many children as her husband wants.

All of these are challenges that face our women and girls from the youngest age all the way through to old age.  As we are a society that lives together, what affects women affects all of us. In order for us to move closer to the SDGs, we must take care of our girls and empower our women. We hold a responsibility to educate them about their reproductive health and teach them on the choices they have to make.

An empowered woman is a pillar of a strong society.

We can achieve this by having strong mentorship programmes for our girls from the grassroots levels: local problems call for local solutions from an international point of view. This can be achieved by requesting the local girls who have transited from primary schools to high schools to come to their local primary schools to hold talks in these schools in order to educate the girls on their rights as they experience body changes. The girls in tertiary institutions can also be requested to do the same in secondary schools. Most of these girls spend their time in school with teacher’s i.e. those who have a chance to be in school; training teachers especially the female teachers on matters such as girl child rights, body changes and confidentiality would help in early identification of any challenges and would also help the girls to open up and speak about their problems. Using the local administrators and local government officials to organise public forums to help educate the public on such issues would increase the disbursement of information and also the information will reach a larger population.

An empowered woman is an empowered society.

The impact will be big when we do it at early ages.

Learn more about the author here.