During its fiscal year 2013-2014, the Government committed more than KSh700 million for family planning as a sign of its commitment to get a healthier, better educated and more productive society, the hurdles ahead are enormous.
In Ganze, Kilifi County, the number of children in a family stands at between eight to 14. However, even though many women wish to use family planning, their cultural beliefs and tradition does not allow them.
According to the nursing officer in charge of Ganze Health Centre, Winnie Muriuki, family planning is a stumbling block to many women who bear the burden of carrying the pregnancy, giving birth and even taking care of their family.
“They believe that a woman should give birth until all the children in her womb are over and a woman does not have any powers over her life to decide for herself whether to use family planning or not,” says Muriuki. She adds: “It is mandatory for a woman to be granted authority by her husband first before she can start embracing family planning.”
Muriuki says: “We have a problem with women because we give them all the required education on family planning but at the end of the day, they tell you, the owner has the final word. Meaning the usband still is the final decision maker to her on what to do.”
So far, culture has been identified as the major brick wall placed against family planning by the local community.
Most men in the region do not want their wives to practice family planning.
The climatic condition of Kilifi County and especially around Ganze area is dry and only little rainfall is received each year. Much of the income is derived from selling of few coconuts that some family may have.
As a result, many men in Ganze do not have any source of income and due to the pressing needs of their big families they end up becoming drunkards.
“Most men cannot even afford chicken because they are unemployed and loiter around the area to seek for casual work or even burn charcoal to get some few penny into their pockets for their families,” says Muriuki. She adds: “Due to the scarcity of casual work, many of them end up becoming drunkards out of frustrations.”
According to Ruphence Rimba, a community health worker in Ganze, Kilifi County, this is an indication that a man doesn’t rest until he gets children.
“Even though many women wish to give birth to few children, their tradition is an irritating culture that cannot easily be wiped out from the community,” says Rimba.
Rimba’s husband is a casual labourer and although she regrets not knowing about her rights and family planning earlier, the mother of seven now urges women to plan their families in order to bring up a healthy family which they can take care of.
“Most of my work involves urging women to open up their eyes and have a change of thought. Today, many women are using family planning to enable them plan their lives and that of their families as well as do businesses that benefit their respective families,” says Rimba.
Through the involvement of community health workers, some women have ignored the taboo and decided to risk their marriages by secretly using family planning.
They leave all the documents and clinic cards with the nurses at the clinic to avoid them being seen by their husbands who would know that they are using contraceptives secretly. Women who have been caught using contraceptives by their husbands have ended up being beaten up while others have been threatened with divorce.
The result is that the wife risks being divorced or shown cold love. She is even told that she is eating food that she isn’t paying for. “According to the Giriama community, a woman shows her profit into the family by giving birth to many children. If that doesn’t happen, they say, they are feeding someone who is not beneficial,” says Rimba.
According to health experts, family planning helps drive away starvation and famine. Additionally family planning helps reduce the number of abortions and maternal and child deaths.
Muriuki says it is a myth that family planning stops women from giving birth at all. She notes that family planning enables women to space as well as bring up healthy and limited number of children whom they can take care of easily.
Despite the fact that the Government has devoted to increase access to modern contraceptives, a lot of information on family planning and government’s intention on this matter needs to come clear to everybody in order to clear the misconceptions associated with it.
So far, records show that Kenya’s population is growing rapidly and has more than tripled from 10.9 million people in 1969 to around 40 million people in 2013.
Population growth is the driving force to a reduced amount of arable land per capita available to rural farmers and their children.
Nearly 70 per cent of Kenyan people live in rural areas, and two out of three rural farmers do not believe the land they own is sufficient for their children to stay and live.
The only remedy to this is to ensure quick access to voluntary family planning. It is important to create awareness around it in order to prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce maternal and child mortality.
Currently, one in every four women who desires to delay or prevent pregnancy does not have access to modern contraceptives.
Among married women aged 15 to 49, the poorest women and those with the lowest level of education have the highest unmet need for family planning while women in the lowest wealth quintile report the greatest need for spacing and limiting their births. In fact almost half of the poorest women report that their most recent pregnancy was not planned.
This article was originally published in the Reject