Wajir, an arid land in Northern Kenya which is pre-dominantly Muslim-Somali, is reported to have one of the highest numbers of child-brides in the country. Despite the county being classified as one of the worst places in the country to give birth/raise a child, many young girls continue bringing forth life in these conditions. Furthermore, due to socio-cultural barriers, the mention of family planning sparks fear and suspicion in the Somali community. The role of demystifying myths on contraception in such a social knit is dependent on women who are willing to actively be change makers. Women can also influence change in such a community, through educating the young women on the benefits of child spacing on the health of both the mother and new born.
The Enabling Sustainable Health Equality (ESHE) Family Planning Programme
ESHE is a DFID-funded programme managed by a consortium of expert partners and agencies let by Palladium. The project is implemented by Save the Children in Wajir and Mandera, to increase awareness of, and demand for family planning, in order to contribute to the overall aim of reducing maternal/new born deaths in the two counties and in Kenya as a whole. The programme also seeks to employ community advocacy through religious leaders and other gate keepers to tackle social cultural barriers, hindering the uptake of family planning. The programme targets women of reproductive age, with a special focus on married adolescent girls. While community entry posed a big challenge in the programme’s initial phase, the sessions with the religious leaders on child spacing, based on the Holy Quran, opened up the community to the concept of contraception and its use. In 2016, family planning champions in different parts of Wajir took up different family planning methods as advised by the medical staff at the health facilities. While contraception use may not have been a new thing in Wajir; Family Planning Champions publicly encouraging families to consider different child spacing options, is one of the key successes of the programme. With sheikhs and female religious leaders on board, myths around family planning are slowly being demystified.
In late 2016, ESHE gained its first adolescent girl champion, who is inspiring teenage mothers to take up family planning methods, which will in turn lead to improved health care for both the mother and the child. The programme so far has reached 700 religious leaders, with 296 having being sensitized and 100% pledging full support to child spacing. It has reached over 1,300 women of reproductive age, 300 of them being married adolescents. It has led to increased acceptability of family planning methods from 430 new cases in 2014 to 4,500 new FP cases in 2016. The Programme was awarded the prestigious Save the Children International Phoenix Award in 2016, based on the new approach it is using following initial failure and learning in the first phase of the programme. The programme continues to raise awareness on family planning as it breaks through social-cultural barriers.
“It has been a transformational experience working in remote parts of the country, in a bid to contribute to improving maternal and child health. Empathizing with the struggles these girls go through at a very young age, as child-brides and young mothers has been very humbling. Working to raise awareness on family planning, and seeing the project progressively breaking cultural barriers has been rewarding; as child spacing contributes to decreased maternal new born mortalities.” – Mary Khangai, DEPP Talent Development Trainee, Save the Children, Kenya Programme.