Author Archives: Michael Okunson

What if being gay was the norm

Category : Naya Blog

Image by passportmagazine

By Michael Okun Oliech

Picture this. What if the world evolved and being gay was the norm and being straight was a thing for the minority? Would we still want to be treated with respect and dignity? Would religious leaders come out publicly and fight straight people? Would gay people who are the majority see we straight people as sinners and sick? Would laws change and declare being straight illegal and being gay legal? Would being gay become natural and being straight become a choice?

Imagine being unable to marry the love of your life just because the law doesn’t permit you to do so. Imagine being denied health care services and other important services just because you are straight. Imagine being called bad names on all digital platforms, in public and in private spaces. Imagine being attacked and locked behind bars and eventually being subjected to a forceful inspection or examination of your sexual organs just to find evidence that you are straight in order to face prosecution and risk up to 20 years of imprisonment for being straight.  Imagine being denied education and job opportunities just because of you are straight. How would you feel? Bad?

If the answer is yes, then we need to change our negative attitudes and beliefs that we have towards gay men. We need to embrace sexual diversity that make us whole and stronger by acceptance of each other allowing us to focus on so many other important issues. Being straight does not give you the green light to be homophobic or discriminate against gay men. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Just like we would want others to treat us with respect and dignity, we must do the same to others because we are all human beings and have our rights.

In the 2010 constitution under the bill of rights, every person has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, to be free from all forms of discrimination and violence, right to privacy, to be treated with respect and dignity and to be free from beliefs and religion that is contrary to a person’s belief or religion. If all these laws were to be implemented to the letter, Kenya would be a better place.


Tom: My pharmacy might be small but it keeps women healthy and safe

Category : My Abortion Story

Story narrated by Tom

Edited by Michael Okun Oliech

As a pharmacist, I usually get a lot of clients more so young women who come to me with a lot of questions about abortion and how to use the abortion pill.

Every day I get up to 5 women who come to buy the abortion pill and get more information on how it works. I offer my services secretly for fear of being arrested and charged in a court of law for helping women get abortion and risk a jail term of up to 14 years.

Despite the risk, I still do it because I want to save lives and I believe abortion is part of health care and health care is a human right. Denying safe abortion services and information to women and girls would be a violation of their rights.

Abortion is part of women’s lives. You might think abortion is not normal or common but the truth of the matter is that, abortion is very normal and common than you think.

Abortion occurs everywhere regardless of what the laws are. Restricting abortion doesn’t make it go away but instead it makes abortion be done secretly and unsafe putting the lives of women in danger. Unsafe abortion causes permanent injuries and even death.  No woman should have to risk her life or health because she lacks safe reproductive health choices.

I believe that decisions affecting a woman’s body should be left to women to decide and once they make their choice or decision known it should be respected and our role is to only make sure we provide safe and necessary resources she needs to make that choice a reality. Every person has the right to choose whether or not to move through a full pregnancy. No person should be forced through a full pregnancy.

I am a pharmacist and not a politician or a religious leader. I believe in choices. I believe that women have a right to access safe abortion information and services when they need it.  My pharmacy might be small but I am glad it keeps women healthy and safe in my community.


Lucy: I was not ready to be a mother

Category : My Abortion Story

Story told by Lucy

Edited by Michael Okun Oliech

I was in my second year in campus when I found out I was pregnant. I was shocked. I was using a birth control method and I didn’t expect to get pregnant. It was clear to me that my birth control method had failed after all they are not 100 percent effective.

I was not ready to be a mother. Never in my life have I ever thought of having a child. I decided to have an abortion in a private hospital secretly without my partner knowing because I knew he would stop me despite me not being ready to be a parent.

My abortion saved my life. I could not have finished my studies in campus and started a career in journalism with an unintended pregnancy. I don’t regret making that choice to have an abortion. So long as it is my body, I make my own choices. Period.

 


Linda: We all have choices

Category : My Abortion Story

Story told by Linda

Edited by Michael Okun Oliech

Back in high school 6 years ago, I fell in love with a guy who I thought was Mr. Perfect. He was so good to me until when I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant for him.  He refused to take responsibility and accused me of cheating and he dumped me over the phone.

I was hurt and angry but I was raised to be strong through tough times. I put myself together and after some serious thinking and soul searching, I decided to have an abortion. Having a child wouldn’t work out for me at that point of my life considering the fact that I was still young and in school.

Through the support of my mother, I was taken to a private clinic where I was to have my abortion. At first, the doctor in charge tried to convince me to keep the pregnancy but that did not change my mind and decision to have an abortion. I had my abortion and everything went well.

My ex-boyfriend later started to accuse me of killing his unborn baby, he told his friends what I had done and they all started calling me awful names just to shame me. I never had peace. I felt so helpless and hopeless because I had no one to talk to on what I been through.

My mum decided to change my school and we relocated to another estate to start a new life where no one knew what I had been through. I moved on with my life and am now concentrating on my studies in campus. I am in a healthy relationship with a man who would catch a grenade for me and jump in front of a train for me.

I hate the fact that there is so much stigma out here that comes with having an abortion. I believe that no woman or girl should be forced to carry a pregnancy she is not prepared to have just to satisfy a man and society at large who have no clue at all about her life, situation or what she is going through. We all have choices and having an abortion is one of them and should stay that way.


ACHIENG, 15 YEARS OLD

Category : My Abortion Story

Story told by Achieng

Edited by Michael Okun Oliech

I remember that painful and terrifying day vividly. It was on Saturday, March 28th 2018 at around 10pm when I was brutally defiled by a man I didn’t know or recognize.

Our home is located three hundred meters away from a famous restaurant here in seme sub county. On that day out of curiosity, my elder sister and I decided to go and check on what was happening there due to the loud music and shouting that came from the area. When we reached, we found out that one of the popular Luo musicians was performing. There were a lot of people both inside and outside the restaurant so we decided to stay outside for a while since I was underage and could not be allowed in. After I had enough, I decided to leave my sister as she seemed to be enjoying herself and walked home.

Before I got far, I noticed I was being followed by a man dressed in all black clothes. He was tall and slim even though I couldn’t see his face as it was quite dark.  I assumed he was also heading home since the footpath that heads to our home is usually used by other people.

When I reached near a small bush which is like 100 meters away from our house, the man ran towards me and held a grip on my hand and threatened to kill me if I dared to scream. He pulled out a small machete hidden in his waist, pointed it at my throat and ordered me to lie on the ground. He then proceeded to do the despicable act despite my numerous pleas for  mercy. It was the most intense pain I have ever felt both physically and emotionally. After he was done he left heading towards the restaurant.

I felt dirty, scared and weak. I did not know what to do and who to approach or talk to. The environment both at home and in school were not conducive. My dad being a widower was a drunkard and our teachers in school were harsh and unapproachable. I decided to keep it to myself. No one would ever know what had happened to me.

One month later I found out I was pregnant. I hid it from my teachers and family but they eventually found out as my stomach grew bigger by the day. I had it rough in school. The teachers mocked me, my fellow students mocked me until eventually the head teacher in our school called me and asked me to drop out of school for a while and postpone my education until the time I gave birth. He said there was no way I was going to sit for my final Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination because he had taken my name off the list of those who would sit for it in fear that I would bring bad grades for the school and that I would encourage other female students to get pregnant.

Feeling unwanted, I ran away from home for two weeks to my aunt’s place because the pressure was too much. Even while there, I never disclosed to her that I was raped. I only did this when I got the courage to talk to a Network for Adolescent and of Youth Africa- Kenya (NAYA Kenya) personnel who is a family friend and was interested in my case. He wanted me to go back to school. He was so understanding and promised to help me. I thank the guy who rescued my life after picking up my story and presenting it to the director of education who ordered that I go back to school and assured me that I would sit for my final exam. She also ordered I be taken for antenatal care, counseling and be treated with respect and dignity all the time I was in school.

I am five months pregnant now carrying a child I was not really ready to bring into the world. My dad had a change of heart and offered to take care of the child once I gave birth even though I wish I had a different choice. I do not want to be a mother right now as I am only 15 years old with a lot of goals to achieve in life.

If safe and legal options to end my pregnancy were available then I would have ended my pregnancy long time ago. If there was no shaming of rape victims and women that choose to abort, I would have ended my pregnancy long time ago. If I had information about safe abortion services and where to get help I would have spoken up sooner. If I had information on what to do when sexually abused, I would have taken action.

No girl should have to undergo what I had to go through.


My abortion Story

Category : My Abortion Story

Story told by Lucy

Edited by Michael Okun Oliech

I was 18 years old when I found out I was three weeks pregnant. I was in my first year in campus. Being the firstborn in our family and a daughter of a peasant, I was so scared. I did not want to be a disappointment to my family and siblings. I wanted to complete my education and become that brilliant lawyer that I have always wanted to be and help my family. I was not ready to be a mum and raise a baby when I was still a baby myself. My boyfriend was not ready to be a dad. Considering the fact that we could barely take care of ourselves there was no way we could take care of another being.

Having an abortion was the only option that was available to us. We decided to use half of our higher learning education loan to go and get abortion services at a private hospital. The procedure was a bit painful but I was so relieved when it was over and everything went well. I was extremely relieved that I was no longer pregnant and I could now go back to class and study without stressing or worrying about the pregnancy and what people and my family would think or say about me.

Ten years down the line and looking back at the decision I made when I was young, I don’t regret it. Here I am today married to the man who stood by me during the most difficult time of my life, helped and supported me when I made the hard decision to have an abortion. I was able to attain my degree in with law first class honors and now I am a lawyer blessed with a beautiful girl and a handsome boy who are wanted and we are a happy family.

Abortion should be a choice left in the hands of women and not in the hands of policy makers, religious leaders and society at large.  It is very important that women should be allowed to decide if, when and whether to become parents or not. It is our body and we should decide on what stays inside our body. When a woman decides to have an abortion we should respect her decision and make sure we avail the resources and services she needs to make it safe. I believe safe abortion is a human right and the government must respect a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her sexual and reproductive health life.


Address the unmet need for family planning in Siaya County

Category : Naya , Naya Blog

By: Michael Okunson Oliech

Meet Anyango, 23-year-old mother of six from Siaya County. She is the second born and the only girl in their family of five. She experienced what so many girls in Siaya County go through while growing up in rural areas. Due to scarcity of money in their family and considering the fact that boys are given first priority when it comes to education, she was forced to drop out of school, went on to marry and have six kids with a boda boda operator aged 28 in the first five years of their marriage. Anyango was only 17 when she got married.

As her family started to grow larger, Anyango started to worry about providing food, good health and education for her family. She didn’t want to see her children suffer. She wanted the best for her children.

“I saw that the children were becoming more, and I could not afford to take care of them. This is when I decided to visit the hospital where I was introduced to intrauterine device to help me plan for my family.” She says

Anyango was so moved on how the family planning method of her choice helped her take control of her body, her future and life.

“Without family planning I would have had eight children by now and I would be languishing in poverty with my family.” She says. Anyango adds that her husband has been supportive throughout this process and has never looked back.

“Family planning has helped us to plan for our six children. Even though we have a large family we can at least afford to feed them well, we can clothe them, we can educate them and provide them with primary health care. If we had the information earlier about family planning and its benefits, we could have had few children like two. Life here in the village is very difficult when you have so many children but when you have one child or two or none, it’s at least better” She says.

Anyango is lucky she had access to family planning information and services, but for some thousands of women in Siaya County who want to avoid or delay pregnancy, they cannot do so because they have no access to modern forms of contraception or family planning. The unmet need for family planning in Siaya County stands at 25%. This means that almost a quarter of women in this county lack the basic human right to plan for their family and future.

Since health is devolved, there is need for the county government of Siaya under the leadership of His Excellency Governor Rasanga to prioritize meeting women’s and their partner’s need for family planning through investing more in voluntary, safe, effective, acceptable, accessible, affordable, high quality, family planning information and services that respect human rights.

Family planning is a win-win intervention that can help enhance economic development in the county. When women and girls who want to use contraception are empowered and educated to use contraceptive method of their choice, they will be able to take control of their lives. Family planning allows girls and women to stay in school, pursue their career and have children when they are ready, it improves child and maternal health, reduces unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, HIV infection rates, and poverty.


I am more than my sexuality

Category : Naya , Naya Blog

By Michael Okun Oliech

I was born and raised in Kenya. I am a teacher, a voter, your neighbour, a student, a doctor, a parent, a police officer, an entrepreneur, a friend, a lawyer a judge, a policy maker just to mention a few. I am a law abiding citizen and I always pay my taxes on time. I participate in nation building activities but still you choose to hate because of my sexuality.

I breathe in the same air that you breathe, if you cut my hand you will see blood and not water coming out. I have a heart and feelings too just like you but you choose to treat me like an outcast. Am not human in your eyes. ​

You use religion to justify your actions towards me. You humiliate me by calling me names, you attack me, you lock me up behind bars in the name of religion but isn’t it ironical? Your religion advocates for peace, love and unity and yet you do the opposite.

You claim that I am a sinner and you cannot associate with me but didn’t Jesus associate with sinners in the bible? Didn’t He show them love and compassion. Are you better than Jesus?

It unfair to call me evil and yet I have never violated your rights. There are plenty of evil people around you such as thieves, rapists, murderers, corrupt officials but you turn a blind eye to them and only see me as a threat.

Why judge me based on my sexuality? The pope was here last year and I remember he said we should never judge people for we are not God. You say am embracing the western culture and interfering with African culture but my question is if you claim to value the African culture, why then are you dressing like the westerners, listening to their music, using their language to communicate, driving their cars? You have copied everything from the westerners but you are quick to judge me.

I was born this way and it is not my fault. You have to understand that we all have different sexual preferences. My sexual preference might not be appealing to you but you have to respect it. I deserve to be treated with respect and dignity at all times.

I am human and I get hurt when my rights are violated. Please stop all the hate you have towards me. I should not be judged based on my sexuality. The moment you do that you miss the good side of us. Please understand that my sexuality is not a disease. You cannot catch it when you are next to me or when you talk to me. I might have a different sexual preference but on the inside am not different from you. I am human. Show some love and kindness to all the LGBT in Kenya.


Tackle Teenage Pregnancy in Kisumu County

Category : Naya , Naya Blog

By: Michael Okun Oliech

The chirping birds signals the dawn of a new day, young boys and girls of Kaila village in Seme sub county rising up to go to school but for Achieng (not her real name) it signals the dawn of washing old rags turned in cloth dippers for her baby.

At 16 years old she should be walking in the line between childhood and adulthood but she is already a mother. In 2017 Achieng joined form one at a local day school in east seme ward. The morning and evening walks with a boy from the same school turned into a relationship and it didn’t take long before she found out she was pregnant. She had to drop out of school and remained at home until she was due and delivered her baby. “I have stayed away from school for more than ten months and I intend to go back to school next year thanks to my parents who have been supporting me with the little that they have.” Achieng speaks

Achieng is not alone, she tells me four of her female friends are already pregnant and have dropped out of school and two of them have already been married off.

Most girls in seme sub county get pregnant before their 9th grade and find it difficult in balancing between parenthood and school life ending up dropping out of school. Only a few girls resolve to return back to school and pursue their education after getting pregnant. Besides curtailing girl child education, teenage pregnancy is associated with high maternal and child mortality and morbidity.

Statistics from the Kenya Demographic health survey 2014 has given a picture of girls whose education has been cut short due to early pregnancy. 15% of girls aged 15-19 years in Kisumu County have begun childbearing. Specifically, 3.1% are pregnant with their first child and 12.4% have ever given birth.

Stake holders in the education sector attributes the trend of teenage pregnancy among young girls due to the  rise of bodaboda riders who take advantage of the young girls after giving them free ride to school, poverty, disco matangas and inadequate sexual and reproductive health information and services.

More reproductive health interventions such as availing high quality age appropriate comprehensive sexuality education in and out of schools, offering free and high quality reproductive health services and awareness creation among men and women needs to be put in place in order to keep girls and boys in school.

There is also need for Governor Anyang Nyongo to implement his manifesto to the latter. One of the pledges he made in his manifesto was to carry out reproductive health education in communities, especially among the youth and provide safe contraceptives and to offer education on their use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. So far this is yet to be done and I urge him to live up to his promise.


FAMILY PLANNING CAN SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCE ABORTIONS

Category : Naya Blog

Women who do not want to become pregnant but do not use any contraception may resort to abortion whether it is legal or not. According to the ministry of health, there are about 500,000 abortions every year in Kenya and half of these abortions are usually unsafe. 21,000 women are admitted each year due to complications from unsafe abortion and out of those admitted 2,600 eventually die. Unsafe abortion accounts for 25% of maternal mortality in Kenya.

Behind nearly every abortion In Kenya is an unwanted pregnancy.  More than 40% of all pregnancies are unplanned or unintended. Approximately 60% of Kenya women have access to modern contraceptives.  Women with unmet need for family planning account for the high numbers of abortion.

Access to quality, affordable, voluntary, stigma free and wide range of family planning services can significantly reduce abortions. Research in various countries demonstrates that women with access to good and quality family planning services are more likely to use contraception, are less likely to have unintended pregnancies, and thus have fewer abortions. Where family planning services are introduced and promoted, abortion-related deaths decline as contraceptive use rises. There is need for both county and national governments to invest more in free and quality family planning

By Michael Okun Oliech