Leaders in Narok County challenged to prioritise reproductive health matters
Even though the General Election was held and winners declared, those who will be taking the leadership mantle in Narok County have a huge task ahead of them.
In a rare gathering to discuss reproductive health and challenges faced by girls and women in the county, women leaders holding positions as well as those aspiring for various seats were taken to task as to how they were going to deal with issues which include a high rate of teenage pregnancies.
The women were invited to a Press Forum where they had a chance to discuss with local women and share experiences as well as ways with which they will encourage girls in the county to complete education and get married at the right age. This would eventually lead to their being more productive in the society.
Rosalinda Soipan Tuya, who has reclaimed her seat as the Narok County Women’s Representative shared her struggles in trying to uplift the girl child.
Tuya revealed how she had put in place strategies and was working with the local community to strengthen her initiatives. Some of the initiatives included talking to girls in schools and encouraging them to work hard, distribution of free sanitary pads in schools so that they don’t miss classes as well as offering bursaries to bright but needy girls.
However, she lamented that retrogressive cultures like Female Genital Mutilation and poverty remained the biggest challenge facing women in girls in the county.
“Once the girls have undergone FGM, which takes place as early as when they are nine years old, their lives take a turn for the worst,” noted Tuya.
The Kenyan government and other stakeholders have put in efforts to improve reproductive health in the country but Narok County still lags behind raising serious concerns.
A county that boasts of many resources and one of the richest in Kenya, Narok still struggles to put in place measures to address safety in reproductive health.
The county has the lowest level of education, early marriage and high fertility rate.
Speaking during the forum that was organized by PACE Project for the Population Reference Bureau which is funded by USAID, Wilson Liambila of Population Council revealed that these factors have also contributed to high and increasing number of teenage marriages in the county.
Liambila further explained that poverty and illiteracy had also become a hindrance to use of contraceptives and other methods of family planning. “Research has shown that the more a woman is educated, the higher her chances of using modern methods of family planning.” He added: “An educated woman is also able to take good care of the child by taking him or her to hospital for medical services and providing better nutrition. This as a result reduces child mortality rate.”
Dr Sheila Macharia, Senior Health Advisor USAID assured Narok County residents of continued support by the American government.
Macharia said USAID has provided assistance to the Kenyan government for over 50 years covering a variety of sectors including health, education, agriculture, economic growth and environment.
She further appreciated the efforts by different stakeholders especially women political leaders from all the wards in Narok County who promised to make reproductive health their agenda once in the office.
“Currently this assistance in health spans a large number of counties including Narok where USAID is currently supporting the county government to enhance the quality of reproductive health services including family planning as well as HIV and AIDS. This support includes training for health workers, provision of medicines such as antiretroviral drugs, contraceptives for family planning and medical equipment.”
Liambila pointed to the high rate of teen pregnancy in Narok County, which is the highest in the country at 40 percent surpassing the national average which is 18 percent and that of the Rift Valley region which is 21 percent.
Macharia noted that low literacy rates amongst women must be highlighted and addressed by political and community leaders in Narok.
Research indicates that 16percent of women I Narok lack basic education compared to the national average of seven percent and Rift Valley nine percent. On the same note Narok has the lowest number women who complete primary education standing at 17 percent compared to national average of 25 percent and Rift Valley 23 percent. Only 10 percent of women in county complete secondary education while only seven percent go beyond secondary compared to national figures of 16 ad 11 percent respectively.
“With such low levels of education, unplanned pregnancies, early marriage and some cultural practices continue to limit opportunities for girls to better participate in the economic transformation of Narok County as able and critical participants,” said Macharia.
She suggested inclusion of the boys from an early age in order to be part of the solution instead of excluding them. “This is a long term transformation of society which implies that a girl has equal opportunities without leaving the boy behind,” reiterated Macharia.
“From an early age boys need to be included in conversations of life so that in understanding reproductive health they realise that they have a responsibility too in preventing unplanned pregnancies. In Narok this is more urgent now than ever before,” she stressed.
USAID works to prevent adolescent and teen pregnancies recognising that the existence of the Ministry of Health’s Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy does not equate to access of critical services for youth.
Jane Godia, a member of Kenya Editors Guild Executive Committee encouraged grassroots women and leaders in the county to use the media effectively in passing their messages.
“Media sets agenda and when used effectively helps to create awareness on the benefits of educating girls and stopping the retrogressive practices,” she said adding that they should also befriend journalists and work together.
She also acknowledged that female political candidates are uniquely placed to be role models and to move motions in parliament that can improve health and education for young girls.
The women who attended the forum agreed that they would protect their girls from FGM and early marriages.