Contraception, Life in Kibera’s Slum

Kenya 2012

June 18, 2012

Also published at Impatient Optimists

Walking through Kibera, Kenya's largest slum.

Photo: Amie Newman

What do you call the ability to plan for when or if you'll have children? What about the ability to decide for yourself that you're all done having children? Whether you call this family planning, using birth control, contraceptives, or prayer, this is one of those issues which touches almost everyone. Maybe you don't need contraception yourself, but your partner does. Or maybe you need a better understanding of how to go about planning for the family you'd like to have, and need to talk to a health care provider who can connect you to resources and information.

The point is, contraceptives/family planning/birth control, whatever it is you'd like to call it, is widely needed and wanted worldwide. And while some of us (cough, cough, I'm looking at you Germany and Sweden) look at this issue as, well, not an issue at all because access to family planning tools and resources are available to all who need them, too many millions of other women are desperate for that same access.

And access to contraception is about so much more than planning when or if you'd like to get pregnant. It's about maintaining agency over one's body and life. It's about staying healthy. It's about providing opportunities to the child you may already have so that they can go to school, be fed, clothed, and offered the chance at a successful, happy life. Many times, for poor women around the world, it's about literally staying alive.

It's why I'm in Kenya this week with the International Reporting Project and 12 amazing bloggers from around the world. We'll be traveling around the country looking at what access to birth control, and other sexual and reproductive health care services including HIV prevention and treatment and pregnancy and childbirth care, are like for the poorest women and girls in this country. From one of the largest slums in the world, Kibera, in the middle of Nairobi, to a maternity care hospital where every day 50-100 babies are born with not enough providers or tools to ensure a safe, healthy birth we'll be talking to women, men, young people, health care practitioners, advocates and others about what it means to have access to these critical services.

In Kenya there are 40 million people; 18 million of whom live on approximately 50 cents/day. The poverty line in this country is $15/month. In fact, more than half of Nairobi’s people live in slums. It’s why we came to Kibera-- to understand more of how so many (far too many) of this country’s people live, more specifically what access to basic reproductive health care looks like for Kenyans. Over the next few days, I’ll blog more about the people we meet from the young adults in Kibera, part of a youth group struggling to change the social conditions under which they, their parents, their grandparents and now, for some of them, their own children, are living; to the many woman-led households who fight daily to feed their children, keep them in school, with access to basic health care services.

I encourage you to follow along on the trip with the bloggers. I'll have photos to come!

Amie Newman is the editor of Impatient Optimists, the blog of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She traveled to Kenya on a 2012 IRP trip that focused on reproductive health.

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