BY CHRISTIAN TURNER
International Women’s Day is a chance for the world to reflect on the achievements, struggles and gains made by women globally and to highlight girls’ and women’s right to equality. This year’s theme is ‘Inspiring change’ and it presents an opportunity to highlight how women in Kenya continue to inspire change in a dynamic world. Kenyan women have stood out in the world of technology, sports, business and just this week, Lupita Nyong’o became the first Kenyan to win a coveted Oscar. Back in 2004, the late Professor Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Laureate, and her acceptance speech recognized those who worked quietly ‘without recognition to promote democracy, defend human rights and ensure equality between women and men’.
Even in this day and age, women face discrimination and prejudice. Yet, women all over the world continue to work hard to make a difference — to alter their lives and the lives of others. Women are at the heart of most families playing the role of nurturer, provider, motivator and caregiver. Our mothers inspire us to dream and always try our best.
But tragically there are many children who never have the chance to know their mother. In Kenya a woman dies every 2 hours while giving birth, a truly shocking figure. The Kenyan Government have made maternal health a priority, abolishing user fees in primary health facilities and providing free maternal care in all public health facilities. The UK has been supporting these efforts to tackle maternal and newborn deaths. Through an on-going programme, the UK has committed £106 million (2010-2015, Kshs 15.3 billion) to increase equitable access to affordable quality basic health services. Expected results from this programme include: helping more than 700,000 women access modern family planning services; distribution of 5.2 million bed-nets to pregnant women and children.
We have also funded a study to look at the costs of maternal death. The study has just concluded and will be launched next week. Titled ‘A Price Too High to Bear,’ it shows us the terrible shockwave of loss and pain that each maternal death causes for families and communities. It documents the financial costs of maternal mortality to poor households in rural Kenya, and the impact of a maternal death on the well-being of surviving children, families, and communities. It shows that far too often a woman’s death in childbirth leads directly to the death of her newborn baby. Among the 59 maternal deaths examined, only 31 infants (52%) survived delivery. Of these 8 babies died in their first week of life and another 8 died over the next few weeks. In all only 15 babies (25%) survived.
We applaud the Kenyan government’s leadership and the First Lady’s Beyond Zero campaign to tackle issues that affect maternal and child health issues. Kenya has made great steps in safeguarding and consolidating women gains through institutions, policies and legislations put in place by the constitution to address gender equality and women’s empowerment. The UK is committed to promoting gender equality and, like Kenya, we believe gender equality and womens’ empowerment should be at the heart of all our development efforts. Indeed we have just passed a law that requires it to be. Next week, the 58th Commission on the Status of Women, will reflect on the global challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls. Global discussions underway point to the little progress made to address violence against women and girls, discriminatory social norms such as early and forced marriage and Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation (FGM/C). This week International Development Secretary Justine Greening has called for Global action to be taken to stop girls being forced into marriage and recognise that it is exploitation as serious as any other form of child abuse.
In June this year our Foreign Secretary William Hague will host a Global Summit on Ending Sexual Violence. We hope that Kenya will have signed the “Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict” prior to the conference so that we can have their valuable input in delivering real progress on the ground in the fight against sexual violence.
As the UK, this International Women’s day we celebrate all the inspirational heroines across the 47 counties addressing the prevention and protection of girls and women against female genital mutilation/cutting, gender based violence, early marriage, maternal and neonatal mortality. During our travels around the country we have certainly been inspired by the many women we have met, from the new women parliamentarians, to a young girl in Meru who had chosen – with her parents – an alternative rites of passage ceremony instead of FGM/C and told us she wanted to grow up to be a nuclear scientist.
And of course this week the words that we have reflected on most are those of Lupita Nyong’o in her Oscar acceptance speech when she said ‘…no matter where you’re from your dreams are valid.’ How true this is and we hope she will inspire the next generation of Kenyans to dream big.
Written by Dr Christian Turner (British High Commissioner to Kenya) and Ms Lisa Philips (Head of DFID Kenya)