The use of contraceptives in Kenya has been undoubtedly shaped by socio-economic and cultural environments which the Kenyan communities are exposed to. These factors shape their attitudes and behavior towards major life issues such as the use of modern contraception.  This was a study conducted by us among urban refugees within Githurai, Kahawa West, Kangemi and other satellite regions within Nairobi which are poverty stricken areas with individuals earning an income that is below a dollar.

Women in these regions were asked whether they used modern reversible contraceptive methods. Women aged 19+ years were interviewed in focus groups and individually regarding contraceptive methods and their use and side-effects. Women in these areas avoid the use of contraceptives publicly whereas in private, some of them admitted to using it. Women felt that the use of contraception is socially unacceptable and some preferred methods of contraception include withdrawal during sex.

The observations were consistent with a number of studies[1] showing that community contributes to individual characteristics associated with the possibility of using contraception in that more favorable rates and cost of living reflect the maternal and child health measures in terms of infant mortality rates. The research goes on to discuss the socio economic and cultural factors and how they may affect contraceptive use and unintended pregnancies. Other factors that were also documented were ethnic and religious beliefs that conflict with views on sexuality and reproductive health, opposition to abortion, pro-life views and how these views might affect the culture of contraceptive use within Kenya.

Kenya is a diverse country with over 45 ethnic groups among other nationalities. However it is estimated that only 26 percent of the total population have access to proper reproductive facilities or information on contraceptive use. Among this 26 percent, 23percent young women between the ages of 18-25 years are the ones who are open to the use of contraceptive while 3 percent are old women between 40-45 years. In additions, 1 percent of the 26 percent are middle class women and poor women who have had the privilege of access of contraceptives as basic as condoms which are the least expensive. This has therefore resulted in a higher likelihood of experiencing mistimed and unwanted pregnancies among poverty stricken young women.

Factors Affecting the Culture of Contraceptives among Kenyan Women

Religious Diversity

Most fundamental human behavior is shaped by religious and political views within society. Hence, religious beliefs dictate issues about contraceptives as well as sexual activities, regulation of non-marital sexual activity as well as appropriate partners hence individuals whose religion does not allow them to use contraceptives refraining from using them unquestionably whereas other religions may encourage the use of contraceptives.

Another explanation to the pattern of use of contraceptives among Kenyan women include side effects related to contraceptives, disapproval by their husbands, contraception being viewed as a social stigma associated with promiscuity and straying, lack of family planning services and economic influx resulting in a lack of purchasing power to buy the contraceptives. As Rhode[2] said so bluntly, "Few if any societies exhibit a more perverse combination of permissiveness and prudishness in their treatment of sexual issues." This reluctance—this "prudishness," it is suggested—makes it difficult to disseminate clear, accurate information about contraception, which in turn may limit contraceptive use. Advocates of this perspective cite a wide variety of data, noted below, to support this point of view.

Solutions to the Factors Affecting the Culture of Contraceptives among Kenyan Women

1. Education initiatives on contraceptives

Increasing modern contraceptive use amongst young women will require both extensive interventions that aim to address the negative perceptions and misinformation on modern contraceptives.  This will require that young people are comprehensively and appropriately educated on contraceptives so that they acquire the correct information to make informed decisions about their health.

2.Socio-economic interventions

In addition to this, interventions must consider and address the socio-economic barriers that exist within communities in Kenya.  This is because most of these women are financially limited, and therefore cannot afford most of the contraceptives that might benefit them.  There is a need to increase economic opportunity for girls, women, and their families so that they can gain financial independence by starting small businesses or gaining technical skills.  This will ultimately allow them the financial freedom to decide if and when they will start a family.

3. Policy and Accessibility

There is also need for increased availability of family planning services to women by reforming reproductive policies in Kenya. In addition, health professionals should go some way towards changing cultural attitudes, more grassroots initiatives are needed to truly change a culture that fears and actively avoids contraceptives.

Family planning policies should also encourage the use of contraceptives among different age groups of women in the various geographical locations.  Most women live in rural areas where they do not have access to these services. In addition, awareness campaigns on reproductive health are required in order to address the misconceptions and myths about contraceptives

4. Use of media as a promoting tool

In line with the studies conducted on the issue, one of the proposed solutions was a call for variability in media of messaging towards young women that promoted the use of modern contraceptives - for instance, using alternative media strategies to create a cultural narrative that contraceptives are a positive practice.

Conclusion

There are many factors that limit the use of contraceptives in contemporary Kenyan society such as religious values, radical cultural beliefs, gender bias, and economic factors. Nonetheless, research has shown that efforts to ensure access of education on contraceptives, the use of media among other factors can impact this phenomenon therefore promoting proper ways of using contraceptives.

 

[1] Mosher and McNally, 1991, Singh, 1986, Tanfer and Horn, 1985

[2] Rhodes T, 1994, HIV outreach, peer education and community change: developments and dilemmas. Health Education Journal