Stigma and discrimination emanating from religion and culture still inhibit young unmarried women from use of contraceptives as they are perceived to be promiscuous. A young unmarried woman using contraceptives or carrying condoms is regarded as “cheap” and “easy”. Young unmarried women lack the capacity and ability to make decisions in regards to their bodily autonomy since decision making primarily lies with their male partners. As a result they become vulnerable to negative sexual reproductive health outcomes including unsafe abortion, unintended pregnancy, pregnancy related complications and HIV/AIDs.
According to a research done by Guttmacher Institute in 2018 of the 2.8 million women aged 15-19 in Kenya, 24% (665,000) have a need for contraceptive methods: that is they are married, unmarried and sexually active , and do not want to have a child for at least two years. Among the 665,000 adolescent women 46% are using modern contraceptives. More than half (54%) of adolescent women in Kenya who are sexually active have unmet needs for contraception. These adolescents either use no contraceptive method or use traditional methods, which typically have low levels of effectiveness, making them vulnerable to poor sexual reproductive health outcomes.
Although Kenya has made strides in addressing unmet needs for contraceptive with an increase in contraceptive prevalence rate from 53% in 2014 to 61% in 2020, there are still existing gaps including lack of access to youth friendly services, family planning commodity stock outs, cultural and religious norms, inadequate knowledge on sexual reproductive health, and fear of side effects related to contraceptives.
In order to address the existing gaps the following recommendations should be implemented:
- Provision of age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education and empowerment of young women to make decisions about their bodily autonomy.
- Creating an enabling environment for young women to enjoy and exercise their sexual reproductive health rights.
- Implementation of existing policies and guidelines on sexual reproductive health i.e., National Adolescent Youth Sexual Reproductive Health Policy, Guidelines on Post Abortion Care and National Guidelines for Provision of Adolescent and Youth Friendly services.
- Training of service providers on commodity security and forecasting and provision of youth friendly services.
- Meaningful engagement of men and boys in sexual reproductive health programs to improve their understanding of the effects of their decision regarding sexual reproductive health on their female partners. Use of digital media to create more awareness on modern contraceptives and referral to sexual reproductive health services including safe abortion.
As we commemorate World Contraceptive Day 2021, let’s continue to champion and advocate for access to contraceptives for young women in order to advance their human rights, including right to liberty as well as improve sexual reproductive health outcomes. This will ultimately improve other aspects of their lives including expanded education opportunities, empowerment of women, sustainable economic growth and development for countries.
Author: Abdiah Laikipian, Co-Founder Women for Sustainable Change.