African women leaders visited sex workers in Kibera slum as part of their field work before holding a stake holders meeting on reproductive health in Nairobi. The women who came from different parts of Africa were hosted by the sex workers as they shared their experiences and challenges that they face in relation to sexual reproductive health.
The sex workers expressed their gratitude to the Family Health Options Kenya (FHOK) for opening a youth centre for them in the middle of the slum. According to these women, they can now get access to both preventive and curative services and drugs at a very low price or even free.
According to one of the sex workers, they are now more informed and empowered. “Through this organization, I got a scholarship and I am pursuing a diploma course,” she said.
The women narrated how they are usually harassed by the police whenever they report rape. They said that the police usually dismiss them as sex workers and tell them that they asked for it. “Before being sex workers we are Kenyan citizens and would like to enjoy our rights like any other Kenyan as the constitution states,” one of them said.
According to Hon. Sylvia Ssinabuya, a member of Ugandan Parliament, this is a very good way of empowering women. “Although sex work is not recognized as a legal source of income in most African countries, they still have a right to Sexual Reproductive Health .They also need to be educated on different preventive methods and the right contraceptives to reduce the rate of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies,” she said.
The Women leaders’ engagement in Kenya was to provide a forum for different stakeholders to engage on its implementation thus far, especially as concerns family planning. The second objective of the strategy is to reduce unmet needs for family planning, unplanned pregnancies as well as social-economic disparities in contraceptive prevalence rate.
The African Women Leaders Network (AWLN) members also visited FHOK Youth Centre in Eastleigh. At this institution the women took a tour around and saw the different facilities like the gym, library and the computer lab. They were also entertained by the ‘True Thespians’ a group of peer educators who use artistic talents like drama ,poems and choral verses to educate the public on reproductive health.
The members also got an opportunity to admire and buy bead ornaments and other pieces of art made by Binti Africa. Binti Africa ,meaning the daughter of Africa in Kiswahili is a programme that offers vocational training to young girls who have either dropped out of school or are young mothers.
According to Angela Tatua, the youth coordinator at the institution, many youths have benefited from this. “The consent age in Kenya is 16 years of age but we have cases where girls get married at 13 years and this makes it hard for them to access family planning services because they are always asked for their parents,” said Angela.
Mr. Simon Wahome , the Project Manager narrated how they have met and helped many girls who could not be accepted back to school after child birth.
“Though our constitution states that every child has the right to free basic education, many girls are not accepted back. We therefore have to counsel them and train them on income generating activities.,” he said.
One of AWLN members Dr. Hilda Tedna who also works with young girls in Uganda was so pleased to visit the institution. “I have a passion of working with the youths especially the young girls. My dream is for them to have the right information, and access to reproductive health. I would also want the stake holders to make this available,” she said.
Hilda is working on a similar project in Uganda and this tour made her believe that it is possible to actualize her long term dream.
The members also visited Family Health Options Kenya clinic and maternity in Nairobi west .they met and shared with the Volunteer Educators from different parts of Nairobi especially the slums. one of the volunteers ,Esther Njoroge from Embakasi narrated the many challenges they meet in their efforts to educate women on family planning.
“At times it is hard convince other women to join us so that we can reach more people because we are not paid ,they would rather be involved in something that has financial gains,” she said adding that the they are however lucky that the Presbitarian church has been so supportive.
According to Esther, the church has been giving them a few minutes during church service to pass the information to their congregation. That however is not enough because it is the same people who come to church every week.
When addressing the stake holders, Funmi Bolagun stressed on the importance of women having access to basic family planning commodities .she added that women get married early and have longer life in marriage and so there is a very big problem when they do not have access and freedom to choose which method they are comfortable with.
During the meeting it was evident that women need contraceptives that are cheap and concealed to hide. It has severally been said that women do not want contraceptives instead of women do not want those contraceptives.
Funmi also emphasized on the fact that peace and security is also important because whenever there is insecurity then women’s sexual rights are violated.
African women leaders network for reproductive health and family planning (AWLN) was formed through collaborative efforts of the African women’s development fund (AWDF) and the international Planned Parenthood Federation Africa region (IPPFAR) to lead and accelerate national domestic implementation of various sexual and reproductive health policies and decelerations ,as well as increase budgetary allocations to sexual and reproductive health issues in Africa.
The network calls on the African governments to: implement the Maputo Plan of action on Sexual and reproductive health rights, 15percent national budgetary allocation to health ,provide adequate and sustainable provisions of Reproductive Health services, including family planning commodities that are accessible, affordable and responsive to the needs of young women. Finally they want the government to integrate family planning into HIV/AIDS services.