As one of the leading faith based feminist organization in Kenya and across sub Sahara Africa, EFOGE board and staff were saddened and deeply concerned by reports of increasing percentage of underage school girls in Kenya getting pregnant and dropping out of schools, increase cases of new HIV infections among young girls and boys between age of 14-21, and roll backs and teachings against the use of contraceptives by some faith leaders. With these increasing threats and disempowerment of women over their sexuality, still any mention of reproductive health rights within religious circles is like resurrecting and inviting all angry gods and goddesses from their graves to come and witness the unthinkable.
However in December 20th, 2018, through deep consultation with top leadership from the Church within Siaya County, ministry of Education, ministry of Health, and County government of Siaya, EFOGE dared these forces and planned/hosted a symposium/public lectures on “Understanding Sexuality & Reproductive Health Rights for Women and Men in the Context of Faith and Religious community” as an entry point to get levels of competence and attitude over the same. We received a total of 216 delegates/participants who were headteachers from local primary and high schools, senior pastors/faith leaders, Anglican Church Mothers Union and Men’s Association members, medical practitioners, youths from the Cathedral, among others. We carried out a pre-symposium survey which revealed to us that about 82% of pastors/faith leaders don’t understand and has never mentioned anything to do with sexual and reproductive health rights in their summons and during pastoral counseling. 76% regard sexual and reproductive health rights as odd teaching against their church/faith tradition. 64% are against sex education as this might open gateway to early sex and immorality among youths, while 34% was for the opinion that reproductive health information and sex education should be available in schools to give healthy choices for adolescents/youths.
The following speakers led and facilitated the conversation during the symposium; The Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Otieno Wasonga – Bishop of the Anglican diocese of Maseno West and Dean of the Anglican Church of Kenya; The Rt. Rev Prof. David Kodia – Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Bondo; Prof. Esther Mombo – Researcher and Senior Lecturer from St. Paul’s University; The Reverend Pauline Wanjiru – World Council of Churches (WCC), Nairobi office; Jacqueline Osido – Ministry of Health Bondo; The Rev. Domnic Misolo – Ekklesia Foundation (EFOGE); and Maurice Oduor – National Council for Pupulation and Development, Nairobi.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), every day in the sub Sahara Africa/developing countries, 20,000 girls under age 18 give birth. This amounts to 7.3 million births a year. And if all pregnancies are included, not just births, the number of adolescent pregnancies is much higher. When a girl becomes pregnant, her life can change radically. Her education may end and her job prospects diminish. She becomes more vulnerable to poverty and exclusion, and her health often suffers. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls.
Adolescent pregnancy is generally not the result of a deliberate choice – these girls often have little say over decisions affecting their lives. Rather, early pregnancy is a consequence of little or no access to school, information or health care.
EFOGE Points of Engagement and Action Plan for 2019/2020
While reproductive health rights are emotive and controversial, because of the moral, ethical and religious undertones of birth control, abortion, family planning, and sexual orientation, EFOGE board of management is seeking a clear path of engagement with religious community and other stakeholders in order to create points of entry for safer conversation and dialogue on the same. Today and the world over, reproductive health rights are emotionally and politically charged, but in the Kenyan context and many sub Sahara Africa countries, the issue is not reproductive rights per se, but the power and wish to control female body especially their sexuality. EFOGE is willing and ready to provide safe space for faith and community leadership to have conversation and way forward to walk along and beside vulnerable girl-child and women on the same issue. Based on the outcome and suggestions received from the recent public lectures, EFOGE plans to pilot a unique two years program (2019/2020) with community stakeholders including faith and religious leaders, learning institutions, community women groups, youths, among others on sexuality and reproductive health rights. More specifically, EFOGE is seeking to conduct research study on sexuality and reproductive health rights within great lakes region, including Kisii, Homabay, Siaya, Kisumu, and Migori in western part of Kenya. EFOGE shall then use the data and research finding to create awareness with community leadership and develop a contextualized empowerment training manual on sexuality and reproductive health rights as a pilot project. This project will then be rolled out/scaled up in Kenya and other sub Sahara African Countries.