Leaders call for securing sexual and reproductive health and rights in Kenya’s largest slum

Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA's Executive Director, met with community role models in Kibera, the largest informal settlement in Kenya. © UNFPA
  • 11 March 2019

NAIROBO, Kenya – “When sleeping women awake, mountains move,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA’s Executive Director, quoting a Kenyan proverb at an event in the sprawling Kibera informal settlement.

The event, held on International Women’s Day, was a celebration of women leaders and innovators. It was also an opportunity to call on national and international authorities to uphold the rights of girls and women, and to highlight the need for their increased representation in leadership and governance.

Speakers at the event also underscored the importance of sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls. These needs and rights are too often neglected. 

Even basic necessities, such as menstrual hygiene supplies, can be out of reach, attendees at the celebration said.

“I first used a sanitary pad when I was employed because growing up in the rural area of Makueni, I had no access to them,” recalled Catherine Wanjaya.

Dr. Kanem and Representative Passaris celebrated the role of women
leaders and innovators. © UNFPA

Today, she works for Genesis Care, a sanitary pad company that was awarded a UNFPA-supported grant in November to provide sanitary napkins and menstrual product disposal in schools. 

“I am inspired to support young women to access these devices at an early age at a most affordable price, everywhere,” she said.  

Gender equality in the spotlight

Although the mood was buoyant, the event grappled with serious concerns.

Gender inequality poses a significant barrier to the health and welfare of Kenyan women and girls. According to a 2014 survey, married women have less control over their earnings than married men, and less decision-making power over their own health and health-care needs. 

Forty-five per cent of women have experienced physical violence, and 14 per cent have experienced sexual violence, according to the survey, according to the survey. 

Marginalized women and girls, including those living in informal settlements like Kibera, are particularly vulnerable.

“We need to defend the rights of girls and women in Kibera, and throughout the world, every day and not only today,” said Dr. Kanem, who was the chief guest at the celebration.

“We need to ask women what they want and what they need. Women must feel safe in their own homes. They must feel free to walk on the streets during the day and night.”

Women who are empowered – who have information, opportunities and agency – are more likely to access life-saving reproductive health care like antenatal services and voluntary family planning, according to the survey’s results. 

“Every woman should also able to access” family planning, noted Nairobi County Women Representative Esther Passaris, who also attended the celebration. She affirmed her intention to work in Parliament with the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus to support the work of UNFPA.

“As Kenyan women we’re committed to your cause and will lobby with other policymakers to pass legislation that is favourable to women’s rights and their advancement,” said Ms. Passaris.

All roads lead to Nairobi

Dr. Kanem also emphasized the importance of the upcoming Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, which will convene activists, governments and leaders to commit to realizing sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. 

Sexual and reproductive health and rights are not only a human rights imperative; they are essential to achieving sustainable development.

The international community must take note, she said, with “all roads leading to Nairobi” for the Summit in November.

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