Monthly Archives: November 2015

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Remember The Seme Women

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Category : Naya Blog

By Michael Oliech Okunson (@MikeOkunson)

“Treating women as second-class citizens is a bad tradition; it holds you back. There’s no excuse for sexual assault or domestic violence, there’s no reason that young girls should suffer genital mutilation, there’s no place in a civilized society for the early or forced marriage of children. These traditions may go back centuries; they have no place in the 21st century. They are issues of right or wrong in any culture. But they are also issues of success and failure. Any nation that fails to educate its girls or employ its women and allow them to maximize their potential is doomed to fall behind the global economy. We’re in a sports center: imagine if you have a team and don’t let half of the team play. That’s stupid. That makes no sense.

                                                                                                        —-US President Barrack Obama, 2015


Nikki* is by far one of the most beautiful women in Kisumu County, she is loving, kind, caring, smart and hardworking. People around her fondly refer to her as Nyaseme because she is from Seme County, the hilly and rocky land.


Nyaseme was a local hero. Not just because of her unignorable beauty but due to her hardworking nature. Just like very many girls her age, Nyaseme did not go through the education system. Her parents later married her before she even understood what marriage meant. God would bless the child with children. But she would be lucky , some of her married friends had died during child birth. Nyaseme struggled daily, walking for long distances, just to ensure that her family got food and water.  Yet this wasn’t enough, her beauty, hard work and politeness couldn’t save her from the blows and the kicks of her husband.

Yet,with a beautiful smile, she is still able to drown her sorrow.

The new  Sustainable Development Goals provide an opportunity for the woman in Seme and other vulnerable groups, the opportunity to realize education and thus empowerment. Full implementation of this goals, alongside national priorities like Vision 2030, will reduce rates of early marriages, teenage pregnancy and unsafe abortions  that have become synonymous with Seme. Seme girls can dream again, they can now that with hard work, they can become doctors and engineers and if they need reproductive health services like long term family planning, they can just walk into youth friendly health facilities and get the help they need.


As a country we need to invest more on empowering our women enabling our nation to move forward as one. To achieve this we must have big visions and goals that will inspire us to break out of our comfort zone and stretch ourselves so that we can grow as one.

I believe that we can achieve huge strides of development in all sectors if only we empower women and treat them equally. You cannot hope to develop a country when you haven’t empowered women who contribute to almost half of the country’s population.


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Society Must be Objective in the Abortion Debate

Category : Naya Blog

By Michael Oliech Okunson (@MikeOkunson)

It’s quite ironical that we men are the loudest wen it comes to what women do with their bodies, reproductive system and all other women’s sphere of life. Key among them whether or not women should give birth, whether or not they need to use contraceptives, how many kids they should have, how they should dress and of course the controversial debate around access to safe abortion.

Interestingly, views on access to safe abortion change depending on which side of the fence the men are. You remember Nerea from Nerea by Sauti Sol?

Sometimes the chorus sang by men  is that  abortion is a crime yet they wont hesitate to order the same girls to seek these services should they be the ones responsible and they don’t feel ready to take full responsibility.

Let stop for a second and ask ourselves the hard questions.

Men play a big role in contributing to the astounding figures of  unsafe abortion in Kenya. Some refuse to use a condom in the name of sex is sweeter without a condom, others lie to their women and make empty promises that they will stick with them through thick and thin, after winning their trust, most proceed to unleash the coveted three letter sentence  “I LOVE YOU” just to seal the deal.

When the woman gets pregnant she becomes a stranger to their erstwhile lovers. Deny! Deny! Deny!  becomes the infamous slogan.

We men refuse to take responsibilities and all we can do is tell the woman to terminate it. At that point we are willing to give them any amount just to go and get rid of the pregnancy. We use the so called love to justify our action.

“if you really love me go get rid of that pregnancy”

We don’t even care on where she is going to acquire these services, all we care about is the termination of the pregnancy. The woman goes and procures unsafe abortion from a quack and it is here where things do go wrong for the woman.

Aren’t men then the enablers of unsafe abortion?

We may not be on the same side in this discourse but at least we need to agree on three things.

  1. That we need to be honest and true in this debate.
  2.  That unsafe abortion hurts and kills our women.
  3. That access to safe and legal abortion as provided for under the constitution will severely reduce complications, morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortions


WE CALL UPON the Government of Kenya to immediately release, disseminate, popularize and resource the National Standards and Guidelines for The Reduction of Maternal Mortality and Morbidity that provide clinical guidance to health care providers on the skills and indications for provision of safe abortion care in accordance with the Kenyan Constitution. {Excerpt  from Alternative Report on Kenya- Reproductive Health and the Maputo Protocol }


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Why We Must End Female Genital Mutilation

Category : Naya Blog

By Michael Oliech Okunson (@MikeOkunson)

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury of the female genital organs of the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

The most common type of FGM here in Kenya is the incision. This is where the clitoris is removed completely.

In Kenya FGM is seen to be practiced among certain communities including the Maasai ,Abagusii, Somali and the Meru.

FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15 and it’s normally performed by the elderly women in the society. Moreover doctors are also taking part in FGM like in Kisii County it’s been done in secrecy.

Some of the tools used in FGM include special knives, scissors, razor blades, scalpels and pieces of glass. Usually there is no use of anesthetics and antiseptics.

In Kenya different reasons are given for practicing FGM. Some say that they practice FGM to control women’s sexuality claiming it reduces infidelity by reducing women urge for sex. Others claim that FGM is a way of initiating a girl into womanhood. Some communities also view the external part of female Genitalia as dirty and unclean so there is need to remove it. Religion has also been used to justify why people practice FGM.

FGM is illegal in Kenya because it has serious implications on the sexual and reproductive health of girls and woman. These implications include, severe pain, hemorrhage, infection of HIV and STDs, shock, damaging of the genital region, infection to the urinary, complication during childbirth and may lead to death.

We need to protect our young girls from FGM. Young girls are angels and as we know angels don’t live in hell. We need to create a safe haven for them here on earth by ending FGM here in the country.


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What Must be Done to Reduce Teen Pregnancy in Seme

Category : Naya Blog

By Michael Oliech Okunson (@MikeOkunson)

Seme is one of the sub-counties in Kenya with the highest levels of teenage pregnancy.  It is estimated that 2 out of 5 teenage girls are pregnant or have babies. This has greatly contributed to high rates of school dropout.

Teenage pregnancy has serious health implications including complications to these young women and sometimes even death.

Limited information on sexual and reproductive health, peer pressure, early marriages and poverty are some of the factors that are to blame for the current state of events.

But teenage pregnancy is not just a risk to the teenage girl herself, it has major effects to the family, society and even county and nation.

The County government of Kisumu should create job opportunities for the underprivileged improving their living standards therefore reducing poverty which is a major cause of teenage pregnancy.

There is also need to provide comprehensive information on sexual and reproductive health and rights and ensure access to services including family planning. This can be achieved by increasing access to youth friendly reproductive health services. This will play a major role in reducing the cases of teenage pregnancy and school dropouts

There is also need to ensure that young people have access to age appropriate comprehensive sexuality education. Most parents, teachers and clergy in Seme sub county shy off when it comes to discussing sexual matters with their sons and daughters. They do believe that sex is sacred and should only be discussed in bedroom between married couples. Parents should open up to their sons and daughters when it comes to reproductive health matters. It is proven that children are more likely to listen to their parents than any other person.

The county government should also take legal actions against men who marry girls who are below eighteen and on their parents who give away their daughters for marriage at a very young age.

There is need to educate the society on the importance of educating a girl child and the disadvantages of marrying off teenage girl.


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Immediately Release and Implement the National Standards and Guidelines for the Reduction of Maternal Mortality and Morbidity

By Esther Wambui  (@KelsieKim )

How to abort has consistently been one of the most asked questions online by Kenyans according to Google Zeitgeist results. In deed a quick search on the world’s most popular search engine produces multiple results, majority of which are incorrect, harmful, troubling and bordering on suicidal.

It is thus not surprising that this online queries translated into about 465,000 unsafe abortion cases every year, many of which develop into severe complications, life time disability and even death.

Sometimes when we see this statistics in yet another report, there is an assumption that these are people from another world, faceless people without names and families, people who won’t be remembered.

Let me tell you the story of one of the 465,000; Halima.





Halima lived in the door opposite my former house in Kawangware, one of the informal settlements in Nairobi. She lived off her small business with her two children, a boy and a girl. They were her life. So she struggled to make sure they lacked nothing.

I use the past tense because she Halima is no more.

Cause of death? Severe bleeding from unsafe abortion.

See Halima had been in a relationship with this man for close to two years. He was abusive and raped her several times. She could not speak out because she knew and believed no one will believe her, furthermore how can your boyfriend rape you? A few months ago she discovered that she was pregnant. She wasn’t ready for another child. So she decide to terminate the pregnancy. She was advised that the best way to do it was to swallow concentrated jik detergent, a bitter and strong concoction of tea leaves and just to be sure to insert wire into her vagina.

When her neighbor finally heeded to her call for help, she found Halima on the floor lying in a sea of blood, her once beautiful body a caricature of a human being. Even before the neighbour could get help, Halima slumped into the cold bloody floor never to wake up again.

But Halima is just an example of many women who get unintended pregnancies, and due to the restrictive policy and legal environment on abortion in Kenya, decides to employ grotesque means to get rid of the pregnancy.

Imagine if these women had the choice of walking into the nearest hospital in Kenya and getting safe abortion services? Halima for one would still be here with us today, taking care of her two children and helping her small community in her small way.

This blatant disregard for loss of lives of Kenyan people is not the nation we want.

In December 2011 the Ministry of Health launched the “National Standards and Guidelines for the reduction of morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortion in Kenya to provide clinical guidelines to health providers providing safe abortion services only to be withdrawn in a huff barely two years later.

A recent study by Ipas Africa Alliance on institutional and structural abortion stigma in health care centers in Bungoma, Busia, Kericho, Trans Nzoia, Nandi and Kisumu counties of Kenya, revealed that this state of limbo has greatly contributed to stigma on healthcare providers who in turn turn away clients seeking these vital services.

Women are not dying because of untreated diseases. “They are dying because    societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.”

Dr. Mahmoud F. Fathalla

As the 57th Ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACPHR) kicks off in Banjul Gambia today, it is time we asked the hard questions. Kenya ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (African Charter) on 21 January 1992 and signed the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) on 17 December 2003[2] during the Summit when the Protocol was adopted.

As a signatory, Kenya will be submitting a report on how they have implemented these policies and frameworks to ensure women’s health are secured. Whereas we appreciate the achievements made so far, as civil society organizations we believe that our agenda is far from being realized if women like Halima will still die from unsafe abortion or maternal maternality.

WE CALL UPON the Government of Kenya to immediately release, disseminate, popularize and resource the National Standards and Guidelines for The Reduction of Maternal Mortality and Morbidity that provide clinical guidance to health care providers on the skills and indications for provision of safe abortion care in accordance with the Kenyan Constitution. {Excerpt from Alternative Report on Kenya- Reproductive Health and the Maputo Protocol }


Esther Kimani is the Executive Director of Young Women’s Leadership Institute, a feminist organization whose mission is to nurture the leadership of young women and create spaces for their participation in policy processes.

Follow them on Twitter @ywli_info or Log on to their website


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Achien’g Will Die

By Michael Oliech Okunson (@MikeOkunson)

The events are still fresh on my mind. It all started on 15 of September when Lilian, our house help, dragged me aside for a private chat. From the contours on her face, it was clear that this was a very grave matter. In deed it was.

Her elder sister Achien’g was in a big fix. At 21, she was already a mother of two and pregnant with the third. Life wasn’t rosy but it was manageable. Together with her husband, they sold mandazis by the roadside to earn their bread.

Her loving husband had denied responsibility for this third pregnancy insisting he had consistently used a condom. Enraged, he had accused Achien’g of infidelity. He refused to take care of another man’s seeds. He gave her two choices. Terminate the pregnancy and be forgiven, keep it and go back to wherever she came from.

Achien’g was desperate to save her marriage and her image. She could not withstand the shame and public ridicule of associated with an infidel. Despite these unfounded accusations, she still felt that their great love could be saved.

After listening to Achien’g, I requested her to visit Family Health Options Kenya, a youth friendly facility in Kisumu that offered Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health services, for further counseling and advice.

Even the fare to come to Kisumu was a big issue considering that their business only served for subsistence.

It was in her moment of desperation that she met a quack who accepted ‘the little she had’.

Achien’g should have known that cheap is expensive, but just like all men, she didn’t have the gift of hindsight.

Her ‘forgiving’ husband welcomed her with open arms. Life was back on track, if not better. Her business even got a boost as some local hotels started ordering for her mandazi.

And then hell broke loose. Blood started oozing from her vagina, her body became hot and she started experiencing severe headaches.

She quickly sought help from a local private facility, not revealing that she had had an abortion. The ‘doctor’ quickly ruled it as severe malaria and typhoid and prescribed painkillers.

The pain subsided with time as she continued swallowing her pills. She even went on with her business, normally. She was healed!

Until she suddenly became so ill. Blood was still oozing and it felt like her whole body was on fire. Her husband, for the first time realized the magnitude of the agony his poor wife was in. Having no money on him at the time, he begged his fellow villagers to lend him money to take his dying wife to the hospital.

When all failed, he swallowed his pride and called his in laws who quickly sold the only sheep that they had in order to rush their dear daughter to hospital. They took her to Rabuor Hospital who with only one look knew they couldn’t help her and instead referred her to New Nyanza Provincial Hospital in Kisumu.

She didn’t make it.

With her last ounce of strength she requested her husband to take care of their two children and then collapsed into the arms of the man she had loved more than life itself.

I attended her funeral. It was so sad. Achien’g was just but a young person gone too soon. Don’t get confused by the fact that she was already married with two children.

But Achien’g isn’t alone. She is just but one of the women who develop severe complications or die from unsafe abortions due to the restrictive legal environment on access to safe abortion in Kenya.

What of post abortion care that is permitted by law? Do facilities like Rabuor have the necessary infrastructure and resources to provide emergency treatment like such whenever required?

How many more women will have to die before we stop hiding our head in the sand and create an enabling policy and legal environment where young people and women’s right to sexual and reproductive health is guaranteed, protected and respected?


WE CALL UPON the Government of Kenya to immediately release, disseminate, popularize and resource the National Standards and Guidelines for The Reduction of Maternal Mortality and Morbidity that provide clinical guidance to health care providers on the skills and indications for provision of safe abortion care in accordance with the Kenyan Constitution. {Excerpt  from Alternative Report on Kenya- Reproductive Health and the Maputo Protocol }


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Editor: @Varaq

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Change of Tact Needed in the War against Female Genital Mutilation

Category : Naya Blog

By Michael Oliech Okunson (@MikeOkunson)

Female Genital Mutilation continues to happen every day under our watch. It is one big problem that has refused to go away. Could it be because of our stick approach of threatening to arrest perpetrators than educating our communities of the scarring effects of this cut? Could it be because our efforts are have not  taken into consideration the strong bonds between a people and their way of life?

In most cultures like in Kuria and Abagussi, men prefer to marry circumcised girls rather than those uncircumcised. They view uncircumcised girls as immature, unclean and incomplete. These men are usually brought up knowing that it is taboo to marry uncircumcised girls.

This means that for a girl to get married to a ‘decent and upright’ man she will have to undergo the cut just so that she could be with the man she loves. This is why many women do take their daughters for the cut. After all which mother would like her daughter to be unmarried, isolated and a source of ridicule in the village?

In our patriarchal societies, aren’t these traditions and beliefs propagated by men as well? Why then do we leave them out in our strategies?

Female Genital Mutilation is more than a legal issue. Locking up all perpetrators will just sweep the problems under the carpet, creating the façade that the war is over, only to resurface later and inflict more harm.

The first step of eliminating this gross violation of human rights is to respect the culture of the people. Confrontation and demeaning their culture will only serve to rile and hurdle them closer to their beliefs and traditions. This means also working with the men who may not be victims or perpetrators but otherwise enable this cut of shame.

We also need to invest more on the young girls and boys from these communities because they are the carriers of these culture. Young boys and girls are the future of these communities. Information will open their thinking and they will in turn serve as the change agents in the society.


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