time to get serious on the contraception debate

Kenya is a country of duplicitous people. It is a country in which the masses have been bullied into pretending that they do not have sex outside of marriage and therefore do not need contraceptives – condoms included. But sex-related statistics continue to expose them for who they are. The country has an AIDS infection rate of almost six percent. Unintended pregnancies account for 45% of total pregnancies, at least according to the ministry of medical services (someone tell me, what is the difference between this ministry and that of health?). Further evidence of the enormity of the problem comes from recent news reports that women are using unverified herbal contraceptives – mainly out of ignorance because the concept of contraception is not yet mainstream – that have left some of them and/or their children permanently deformed.

Meanwhile, the church in Kenya continues to be an ostrich – and I have complained about this before. Despite the overwhelming evidence of a sexually active populace in need of a less closed-minded approach to contraception, the only advice coming from the pulpits is that abortion is immoral and evil and that nobody should be having sex until they get married.

I am not saying that liberal sexual attitudes should be forced on Kenyans. I personally believe that cultural changes should be incremental and reflective of the will of the people. But we cannot hide from the evils of non-contraception. Illegal abortions kill countless women every year. And a lack of family planning is a direct contributor to economic hardship for many Kenyan families. I am reminded of a comment made by a close friend of mine who is working with communities in Manyatta (an informal settlement in Kisumu)  that one of the things she noticed about the place was that there were masses of children everywhere. I can bet that a good chunk of these kids will not get enough food, clothing or education in their lifetimes. A horrifying percentage of Kenyan kids do not make it to five. A little birth control would free up resources to ensure that Kenyan children have a better chance in life – beginning with the chance to stay alive into old age.

Now do not get me wrong. I am not for reducing Kenya’s population figures. As I have stated before, I believe that Africa – as a continent – is woefully underpopulated. That said, I think that the Continent’s – and in particular Kenya’s – population expansion should be better managed. It is time we stopped burdening the daughters of the continent with, on average, almost one and a half decades of childbearing. It is time the government acted on the need to better educate Kenyan families on the means of contraception. And about the church, they should get real.

giving a voice to the voiceless

The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof has a piece on the plight of women in rural Africa. The story is as heartwrenching as it is evocative. Nearly one in ten women die during childbirth in rural Africa. Getting pregnant is almost a death sentence for these women. Poor nutrition, poverty (which forces pregnant women to engage in hard labor that further endanger their lives) and regressive cultural practices – like genital mutilation – make childbearing a most dangerous activity.

A while back I wrote a piece on this same issue with figures from IRIN. I am glad and encouraged that Kristof is shining an infinitely bigger spotlight on this issue. The world needs to know more about the voiceless poor in rural Africa and the rest of the Global South who are condemned to live short and brutish lives dictated by their dire economic situations and formidable structural factors (poor governance, gender bias, dependency etc etc) that forever condemn them to live like it is still 20,000 BC.

As Kristof notes in his piece, it does not take much to make a difference. Four dollars can save a woman’s life. But such measures should be seen as band aid. The real cure for the healthcare mess that persists in rural Africa is education of women (and men). Statistics have proven again and again that educated women have fewer, healthier children. Education also serves to delay the onset of childbearing, therefore avoding the dangers associated with teenage motherhood.

The right to life is the most sacred human right. The poor women of the Global South deserve better than they are getting from both their governments and the international community at large.