Produced by Women Deliver September 28, 2016

Two Young Leaders Explain Why Unsafe Abortion is a Kenyan Health Crisis

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In honor of the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, Women Deliver spoke with Catherine Nyambura and Caren Odanga, two Young Leaders who are implementing seed grant projects to end unsafe abortion in their Kenyan communities. They share their thoughts on why unsafe abortion is such a problem in Kenya and what they are doing to turn the tide in favor of women's health, rights, and wellbeing.

Women Deliver: Why did you decide to focus your seed grant project on abortion?

Caren Odanga: I decided to focus my seed grant project on abortion after realizing that many girls from community were dying prematurely due to complications related to unsafe abortion practices. Girls are exposed to forced sexual encounters at a tender age of around 12 years. Despite this knowledge, girls are not provided with appropriate information with regards to reproductive health options and contraceptives which leads to high level of teenage pregnancies. 

Catherine Nyambura: Legal and policy contexts within countries play a great role in enabling access to health for women and girls and aids in tackling maternal mortality. According to statistics by the African Population Health and Research Centre and Ministry of Health, unsafe abortions contribute to a third of the maternal mortality burden in Kenya placing a heavy burden on already strained health systems in the country and counties. More than two thirds of the mortality and incidence is amongst young women and girls below 25 years. The Stand Up Be Counted project will provide a space for young women to articulate the needs and realities of young women and girls; in particular, how young women and girls are enabled or denied access to sexual and reproductive health and rights services and information including safe abortion services.

Women Deliver: Why is unsafe abortion such a critical issue in your Kenyan community?

Catherine: Like in other societies, women and girls in Kenya suffer gendered, cultural and other structural barriers when seeking access to sexual and reproductive health and rights services and information. Unsafe abortion is thus a public health issues that costs women and girls lives and most importantly a gender equality and women’s rights issue that depicts the heights of women’s bodily autonomy violations.

Caren: Unsafe abortion practices have been identified as one of the major causes of maternal mortality in Kenya. This is due to punitive and restrictive laws on abortion, unfriendly healthcare providers, and high cost of procuring medical safe abortion. In addition to restrictive laws, there is high stigma attached to abortion which makes many girls to procure abortion in "darkness" before people realize their pregnancy status.

Women Deliver: What kind of solutions have you seen that work to solve the various problems that arise from unsafe abortion?

Caren: Practical solutions to unsafe abortion practices include but not limited to; Enacting progressive laws on abortion, providing sexual education and contraceptives to girls, reducing stigma attached to abortion, enhancing awareness on the effects of unsafe abortion, and providing youth abortion friendly services.

Catherine: Efforts to drive policy advocacy towards countering the effects of restrictive laws have been effective in engaging leaders and decision makers. Creative ways of policy advocacy where we use social and digital media to close the divide between citizenry and facilitate dialogue has been very effective. We have used the #SRHRDialogues to host twitter chats with champion legislators and ensure that young people not only influence advocacy but also hold leaders accountable on their law making duties. Efforts to counter abortion stigma have gone a long way in breaking gender stereotypes and enabling access where stigma is a barrier even legal contexts are favorable. Comprehensive and holistic programs that are designed to address the complex barriers and integrate abortion services have been key to widening access including breaking down stigma by siloing of abortion services.

Women Deliver: What role can young people play in ending unsafe abortion?

Caren: Young people can lobby for amendments to restrictive abortion laws. They can provide peer education to fellow youth on safe abortion and help identify friendly healthcare service providers. They can also reduce the stigma attached to abortion through community sensitization activities, and advocate for access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services within the communities.

Catherine: It is time that young women lent their voice in a strong way to the abortion rights movement globally. Young people advocating for access to sexual and reproductive health and rights must showcase and amplify strongly the interlinkages between abortion and unmet need for contraceptives, lack of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), and lack of youth friendly services. In particular, youth advocates should push for access to safe abortion as a core package of youth friendly services.

Learn more about the Women Deliver Young Leaders Program seed grant recipients here

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