By Winnie Kabintie
A new study commissioned by the Ministry Of Health (MOH), which divulges that girls in the rural areas have their first sexual encounter way earlier than those in the urban cities, goes to affirm that indeed education and empowerment goes a long way in helping girls and women make informed choices when it comes to reproductive health.
“Women with a college or university education are less likely to marry, have their first birth or sex by age 18 compared to women with lower levels of education,” The study says in part.
According to the study, which was conducted by the Performance Monitoring and Accountability 2020 (PMA2020), girls in the village engage in their first sexual encounter at an average of 16 years. At this age for the girls who are in school, they are usually in high school at either Form 2 or Form 3. https://www.pma2020.org/
The study observes that this is a bit earlier compared to girls in urban cities who have their first sexual encounter at an average age of 18 years when most of them have completed high school already.
“Majority Of Young Women in Kenya Live In Rural Areas”
The study further reveals that the majority of young women live in rural areas and records that even though girls in the rural areas engage in sex earlier than those in the cities, the former do not use contraceptives until 22 years of age, way later compared to girls in urban areas who begin using contraceptives at 21.9 years.
“The gap between first sex and first contraceptive use among rural women is 6 years and 3.5 years for urban women,” the study says in part.
I was born and bred in Nairobi but for the better part of primary school, my sister and I would always prefer spending our school holidays back in the village, mostly because our cousins and the only peers in the family were in the rural area.
But one thing I observed even at that young age was the distinct levels of exposure between us and our cousins, even for those who were a bit older than my sister and i.
Our two favourite cousins, whom i was on the same grade with would, later on, end up pregnant; one was in form two and resumed school after the baby but the other one ended up dropping out of school.
These incidents disturbed me mentally and I recall at some point thinking just how fortunate my sister and I were not to have grown up in the village, because we probably could have ended up in the same fate.
LACK OF SEX EDUCATION
Lack of proper sex education also plays a role in the early cases of sexual encounters among young people.
As the study reveals, the majority of young women live in rural areas.
In a country that is highly conservative, parents still shy away from discussing sex education with their kids and the majority of girls actually end up pregnant in their first sexual encounter.
35-year old Brian Okoth ( names changed to maintain privacy) shares of his experience.
“I had my first child at the age of 16 on my first encounter. I grew up in the village and only came to Nairobi for my university education. On the fateful day, my older cousin set me up with this girl in his house. We had all visited then he walked out and locked the house.
The girl seemed to have been aware of the plan since she seemed upbeat and was evidently experienced. I didn’t even know what I was supposed to do but she guided me through it all and the one thing I always remember at some point is that I felt like I really had a sudden urge to pee and I told her. And she said “just pee inside”
And that was it. She conceived! And had to drop out of school. Sadly she never resumed her studies at all”
Okoth says that in a society where parents do not engage their children in sex education since sex is still considered a taboo in the African culture, matters contraceptives will therefore not be discussed as well and that explains why most girls in the rural areas end up getting babies at younger ages.
In a recent chat with the cousin I mentioned earlier who got a baby while in form two, she revealed that she knew little about sex, contraceptives, and pregnancy at the time. A knowledge if she had, would have made a difference.
According to the study, 21 per cent of 18-24 years old rural females have their first birth by age 18 compared to 12 per cent of urban females in the same age bracket.
Even in the urban areas, most parents are still shy about having sex education with their kids and teenagers have to do with the little that is shared in school or what they learn from their peers.
I personally had my first sex education in high school during the popular Straight Talk sessions in addition to the biology class on reproductive health.
BILL GATES – HELP WOMEN TAKE CONTROL FOR HEALTHIER FAMILIES
In a recent interview with The Star newspaper, Bill gates emphasized on the need to empower women in reproductive health to ensure that they are more informed and have access to modern day contraceptives in order to adhere to family planning, which will consequently translate to better planned families.
“The path out of poverty begins when the next generation can access quality healthcare and a great education,” The Melinda Gates and Gates Foundation observes.
And true to the Gates, Okoth’s story is a clear indication of how girls end up at a disadvantage when it comes to matters reproductive health. While Okoth carried on with his studies and even pursued his education all the way to university (MBA) the girl he made pregnant ended up dropping out of school and her fate was sealed to the village.
YOUNG ADULTS AT HIGH PREVALENCE OF NEW HIV INFECTIONS
With recent stats showing young people account for 51 percent of new HIV infections in the country the need to intensify sex education and matters contraceptives cannot be underestimated and especially with the misconceptions surrounding contraceptives.
For the younger adults, use of condoms for instance is associated with “lack of trust” while for the older girls “user of “family planning” contraceptives is seen as a reserve of married women.
The PMA 2020 study observes that more than 61% of people in Kenya are under 24 years of age and similar studies have revealed that this young people are having a lot of sex and the rate of teenage pregnancies is ballooning at an alarming rate, it’s about time “Straight Talks”, became part and parcel of the agenda in family meetings.
By providing youth-friendly sexual education, coupled with accessible and quality reproductive health services, our girls will be able to make informed decisions on their reproductive health and consequently chart a better future for their lives.