By Michael Oliech
When we fulfil the rights of girls and they are healthy, they can attend school. In school, they will gain the skills and resources they need to become productive and empowered adults.
In the last five years, we have seen massive developments in the attainment of education for girls at the primary and secondary level. Yet, girls, especially from the poorest and most marginalized societies in Kenya, continue to fall behind at the secondary level.
The four factors that undermine the girls’ access to education are:
- Child Marriage;
- Adolescent Pregnancy;
- HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs); and
- Gender-Based Violence
Gender-based violence and the vulnerability of adolescent girls to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases affect their educational aspirations. So do forced child marriages and unintended pregnancies, which are also a big impediment to girls’ education.
How these issues affect adolescent girls
A significant number of girls become pregnant in Kenya during the time they should be in school. According to the Ministry of Health, 13,000 adolescent girls drop out of school annually due to unintended pregnancies.
Pregnancy-related complications are a leading cause of death for adolescent girls and women in the world. Close to 300,000 girls and women — or 800 every day — die each year due to pregnancy- and childbirth-related issues.
A research by International Center for Research on Women (2015) says about a third of the girls in developing countries (including Kenya) get married before their 18th birthday. The research further states that girls with no education are three times more likely to marry before age 18 than those with secondary or higher education.
Gender-based violence is very rampant in this country and undermines girls’ access to school and learning.
According to the Gender-Based Violence Recovery Center, 3 out of every 10 Kenyan females aged between 12 to 24 years have been victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Of these, almost 25% reported an incident while travelling to or from school, and 15% reported an incident at school or on school grounds.
According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014, more than 40% of adolescents who wish to avoid pregnancy do not have access to modern contraception. Girls and boys often lack access to information and services that would improve their sexual and reproductive health and educational status.
Sexual and reproductive health, rights, and empowerment of girls are central to achieving sustainable development and creating a Kenya that is just, equitable, and inclusive.
How to address these issues
Protecting sexual and reproductive health and rights of all individuals saves lives. It also empowers people and can lead to significant economic gains for individuals, families, and nations. Research shows it reduces healthcare costs, improves productivity, and increases the rate of education, which lead to greater economic growth.
Inequality between women and men undermines all development goals. When women and girls lack access to education, information and services, their health and rights suffer. When women and girls do not have full access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, their ability to contribute economically, socially and politically to their communities is severely constrained.
Preventing child, early and forced marriages and ensuring access to voluntary contraceptive services:
- allows girls to attend and stay in school longer;
- delays the age of pregnancy; and
- allows for more bargaining power in intimate relationships.
For Kenya to achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, it must:
- end child marriage;
- end female genital mutilation/cutting;
- put an end to sexual violence and exploitation;
- provide access to voluntary family planning/contraception education and services;
- provide access to safe and legal abortions; and
- provide rights-based comprehensive sexuality education for girls and boys in and out of school.
(The writer is a champion for sexual and reproductive health rights)