Celebrate International Women’s Day by combating teenage pregnancies in Kenya

In Summary

• Teen pregnancy in Kenya during the lockdown also disproportionately affects girls who are living in poverty.

• The lockdown is stressful and even dangerous for those who struggled financially even before work and schools shut down. 

Siyad Udgoon.
Siyad Udgoon.
Image: COURTESY

International Women's Day is a global day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, while also making a call to action for strengthening gender equality and accelerating women’s empowerment.

Like every year on March 8, everyone is celebrating International Women’s Day. With many women across the globe contributing to the development on the personal as well as professional front on a constant basis, the acknowledgement is not as loud as it should be. Hence, this occasion serves as the best moment where all the women get the due of their hard work and resilience through appreciation. But to celebrate it in a right manner, there is a need to fight the problems and ills facing our women.

Significance of the International Women’s Day

The day is significant for more than one reason. It allows everyone to vocalize the appreciation towards the women of the society who have been working endlessly to challenge the patriarchal system. It also makes everyone pause and create an urge to change what needs to be changed to make this world a better and safer place for women. The acknowledgment of the efforts of women who have been homemakers and those who have been working women is voiced in special ways. The day also celebrates the female achievers from all walks of life.

International Women’s Day 2021 Theme

The theme this year is ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world. It celebrates the remarkable efforts by women and girls around the globe to shape a more equitable future and the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women stand at the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, as health care workers, caregivers, community organizers. The crisis has highlighted new barriers to women’s leadership and participation as well as the disproportionate burdens they carry.

Rise in Teenage Pregnancies in Kenya Linked to COVID-19 Lockdown

In Kenya, the younger generation is experiencing an unintended and surprising side effect of the coronavirus lockdowns– a significant rise in teen pregnancies. Over a three month period of the lockdown, there was a 40% rise in the number of teen pregnancies in Kenya, with 152,000 pregnancies reported. There are a number of reasons why this figure has increased since Kenya went into lockdown, each of which contribute to the increase in Kenyan teen pregnancies.

One significant cause of the rise of teen pregnancy in Kenya is the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services during the pandemic. As the country focuses its healthcare system and medical resources on fighting the coronavirus and caring for the sick, reproductive health services can fall by the wayside. Additionally, historical evidence on epidemics shows that lockdowns and restrictions on movement make it difficult for girls to access the limited medical services that are available.

Impact of COVID-19 Lockdown

Even before the pandemic, Kenya was already struggling with reduced funding for reproductive and sexual health services, as well as limited sex education in schools. The cultural taboo around talking about sexual health at home has left Kenyan teenagers reliant on their schools for this knowledge, yet they do not receive the necessary education for pregnancy prevention because the sex education curriculum mainly focuses on HIV prevention and abstinence. However, Kenyan students do not have access to even this limited sexual health education while they are in lockdown. Thus, unplanned pregnancy increases drastically as nearly 4,000 school girls have become pregnant within the Kenyan COVID-19 lockdown.

Teen pregnancy in Kenya during the lockdown also disproportionately affects girls who are living in poverty. The lockdown is stressful and even dangerous for those who struggled financially even before work and schools shut down. When they attended school, students living in poverty received free meals and hygiene products. However, students no longer have access to these resources because Kenyan schools are anticipated to be closed until 2021.

Lifelong Consequences

Teen girls who become pregnant during the lockdown face a lifetime of difficult consequences. Pregnancy and childbirth-related complications are the number one cause of death globally for 15 to 19-year-old girls, and in Kenya, adolescent girls made up 45% of severe abortion complication cases. This is especially dangerous given that pregnant mothers already face the threat of coronavirus and a medical system struggling to handle the pandemic. Girls living in poverty or in areas without easy access to medical facilities risk not receiving improper maternal and newborn health services, putting the health of both mother and baby at risk.

COVID-19 lockdowns have undoubtedly impacted Kenyan teen pregnancy rates. The structure of the Kenyan health and education systems has worsened the situation substantially. But with the proper reproductive education and health services, there is still hope for Kenyan teenagers to overcome this issue.

 

Siyad is an advocate of Women Rights/ Women Representative Aspirant in Garissa County

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