At 24 years old, I’ve already seen many futures stolen by teenage pregnancies in my home country, Kenya. I have been forced to watch the public shaming of our pregnant peers as they were paraded through the halls of school before being beaten and expelled. Girls drop out and are coerced into teenage marriages and abusive relationships every day because they became pregnant by mistake.
These unplanned pregnancies rob girls of their youth and education, undermine opportunities for employment, and increase poverty and inequality.
Between July 2016 and June 2017, nearly 400,000 girls aged 10 to 19 years became pregnant in Kenya. Imagine what our communities and our economy would look like if they had finished school and joined the workforce instead?
Denied access to information and services
This happens because, throughout Kenya, especially among rural communities, teenagers and young women like me continue to be denied access to information and services related to our sexual and reproductive health and rights.
At home, the topic of our sexuality and reproductive health is shrouded in taboo. No one is willing to openly discuss it.
teenagers and young women continue to be denied access to information and services related to our sexual and reproductive health.
At clinics, we are often met by hostile, judgmental nurses and doctors who dismiss women as being too young to need contraceptives, or the services needed are not available.
Even at school, we’re not taught about how to negotiate safe sex or even the basics of fertility and reproduction. Myths and misconceptions are our only information source.
And when we reach adulthood, the situation doesn’t improve much. Across our country, only 44.8% of women who want to delay or prevent pregnancy are using a modern contraceptive method. Last year alone, over 1 million pregnancies were unintended.
Turn promises into actions
For the sake of my country’s future, this needs to change. In 2017, Kenya committed to increase the health facilities offering youth-friendly services from 10% to 50% by 2025. To reach this goal, it’s time for promises to turn into actions.
Give us the chance to choose to have smaller families, later in life, that we are better able to support. Give us the chance to contribute to the social and economic development of our country. Give us the chance to advance the reproductive rights of girls and women.
If we make small changes like these, we’ll have the potential to ensure the rights of all girls and young women are fulfilled.
This can shift the demographics of our societies, making us part of a movement to boost the percentage of working age young adults while reducing the number of dependents we support, and in turn, the economy can grow.
Give girls a choice
If you are a parent, consider the life opportunities your daughter might have if you give her the support she needs to use contraceptives, and teach her how they work.
If you are a health care provider, consider how many lives you can change if you offer counselling and services to youth.
If you are an educator, consider the heights your students can reach if you provide them with the knowledge to make informed decisions about when to start a family.
And if you are a politician or one of our leaders, consider what my generation can achieve if you support our access to our sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Caren, 24, is a youth campaigner from Kenya. She founded the Sisari Women's Initiative Group to provide sexual health services and rights for young women. As a result of her work she was named in the Top 40 Under 40 Influential Women in Kenya is 2016.