Women Promotion Centre is a young women-led nonprofit organization working with marginalized and vulnerable young women in Kenya’s Kibera Slum. The organization seeks to build a safer sexual rights culture in poor neighborhoods by challenging harmful and regressive beliefs and practices.
Women Promotion Centre (WPC), a PAI YOUAccess partner, is taking on the challenges faced by youth and adolescent girls in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Kibera is one of the largest urban slums in Africa, with young people making up nearly 65 percent of the population. The residents of Kibera face many challenges: high unemployment, poor sanitation and inadequate housing. Included among these issues is a high unmet need for contraceptives, especially for young women. The lack of prioritization of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for youth and adolescents among the government has led to high incidences of teenage pregnancy and forced underage marriage. In Kibera, if a young woman tries to access contraceptives, she faces hostility from health care service providers, and religious and traditional leaders—leaving her to turn to her peers, who often give misleading or distorted information.
WPC has been spearheading an advocacy campaign to amplify the voices of young women in an effort to hold the government accountable to its youth-related FP2020 commitments. WPC is focusing its advocacy efforts on ensuring full implementation of the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy (NASRHP). Implementing the NASRHP while engaging young people is an opportunity to address the real issues that young people in Kenya face. The policy emphasizes improving young people’s sexual and reproductive health by respecting human rights, responding to the various sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents and using evidence-based interventions and programming. Unfortunately, there has been very little progress in terms of its implementation, especially the establishment of youth centers at country-level facilities which would offer a safe space for young people seeking SRHR services and information.
Over the last several months, WPC has led panel discussions with key policymakers from the Ministry of Health. These have led to the government establishing a taskforce to lead on the NASRHP implementation plan. More importantly, WPC’s efforts and those of other youth-serving organizations have resulted in constructive discussions on fast-tracking the implementation of youth centers around the country. WPC continues to engage young women to strengthen their capacity to advocate for progressive national policies on sexual and reproductive health rights, and collectively work together to hold the Government of Kenya accountable for its FP2020 commitments by ensuring the full implementation of the NASRHP.
Despite a number of successes, WPC still faces many external challenges, such as lack of commitment from key stakeholders and persistent public opposition from religious leaders and politicians to the use of contraceptives among young women. As an organization led by young women, we also face internal challenges such as lack of adequate financial resources to organize consistent advocacy and follow-on activities. YOUAccess provides us with funding and advocacy support, but more is needed to meet the sexual and reproductive health needs of young women in Kenya.
The continued denial of SRHR services and information to marginalized adolescents perpetuates gender inequities, undermines girls’ opportunities for education and employment, and exacerbates poverty as well as girls’ experiences of intersecting forms of discrimination. When young women are empowered to make decisions about their sexuality and reproduction, they are more empowered to make decisions about their lives in general; hence, contributing to social and economic development of the society.
Achieving gender equality requires eliminating all barriers that prevent young women from accessing or using the sexual and reproductive health information and services that enable their full and equal participation in education, employment and decision-making processes. WPC strongly holds the view that denying young women access to family planning options, including access to safe medical abortion, is a form of institutional violence against women. When duty bearers have a responsibility to guarantee women’s health under international, regional and national policy frameworks and they do not, they are willingly in violation of women’s human rights and should be held responsible.