Importance of Women’s Health and Family Planning Education:
Many women in the rural villages of Western Kenya have not received an education beyond primary school (grade 8). Most women in these villages marry and start having children at a very young age without knowing anything about their own bodies, proper nutrition, how to care for their newborn babies, or advocate for their own health. Because of this, women are more likely to get and spread sexually-transmitted illnesses as well as have more children than they are able to properly take care of. Children are more likely to die during childbirth and those that survive childbirth are more likely to be malnourished and suffer from preventable illnesses (7). Educating women in Western Kenya about their own bodies and about health allows these women to better take care of themselves and their families. These women are more likely to feel empowered and in control of their own fate.
The goal of the Women’s Health Education Program is to empower the women of Western Kenya through education. The Women’s Health Education Program allows volunteers to travel to rural villages of Western Kenya and teach women about issues affecting their health and well-being. The women attending the program range in age from 16-60 years old. Many of the women attending the program work at home, farming and taking care of their children. The training sessions take place over a 4 day period for about 3 hours per day. Each week volunteers travel to a different village to teach a new group of women. Interactive activities are incorporated during teaching to keep the women engaged. Intensive question and answer sessions are included after each major topic discussed.
Topics for the program include
- Female anatomy
- Menstrual cycle
- Family planning
- Illnesses common in women
- STIs (including HIV)
- Women’s rights and violence against women
While there are some variations in program implementation, the general layout is as follows:
- The first day of the Women’s Health Education Program involves introductions and a program explanation. Topics covered on the first day include female anatomy, the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and breastfeeding. Some volunteers choose to lead the women in icebreakers in an attempt to make them feel more comfortable about a subject that can difficult to talk about in public. It is important that the women are comfortable with the program volunteers so engaging the women in discussion is a priority.
- The second day covers family planning. The benefits of family planning as well as the methods of family planning including natural, barrier, hormonal and permanent methods are discussed. Volunteers also give a demonstration on proper condom use, which often leads to questions. Many of the women have false beliefs about some of the family planning methods and it is important that volunteers dispel these myths.
- The third day covers illnesses common in women such as clogged milk ducts, yeast infections, breast cancer, cervical cancer and pelvic inflammatory disease. Sexually transmitted infections are also discussed with some emphasis on HIV. The fourth day covers nutrition, women’s rights and violence against women. Volunteers may choose to use a game to help teach the women about nutrition and keep them interested in the topic. For the violence against women section it is the women themselves that should lead much of this session, they are the ones that know the issues that they have to deal with and the practical approach to improving the situation.
Volunteers have found the program to be very rewarding. There still remains a knowledge gap with women in rural communities about women’s health and family planning. The lack of education and the tendency for the women to work at the home without much external interaction results in the spread of myths about women’s health, family planning, pregnancy, etc. This program helps dispel those myths and get women on a path towards leading better, healthier lives for themselves and their families.
The Women’s Health Education Program is in the process of expanding. Additional areas we are making plans to expand into include:
- Visiting secondary schools in Western Kenya to educate girls about women’s health. This involves creating a shortened program to be approved by the appropriate government personnel.
- Organizing women’s rights education sessions with both men and women across multiple villages. This will be in coordination with the Center for Gender and Development in Western Kenya
- Helping women form officially registered women’s groups with the Ministry of Social Services. This involves helping the women elect officials, decide on a mission, write their constitution, and start their own bank account. This is critical to ensure that the women continue meeting and discussing issues as a cohesive group. The formation of women’s self-help groups helps the women gain self-confidence and a feeling of empowerment (10).
You do not need to have a background in women’s health to volunteer with this program. However, because the women are more comfortable around other women, we do require the volunteers for this program to be female. Volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds. Recent volunteers in the Women’s Health Education Program included a consultant, a law student, a dance instructor, and a nurse. All volunteers will receive our extensive training manual on teaching the Women’s Health Education Program prior to arriving in Kenya. You will need to study this manual thoroughly and then supplement it with additional online research. This training manual is what the volunteers will use as the guide for giving the four day training seminar. We do encourage you to think of unique, entertaining ways to teach that will facilitate learning. We are also in need of supplies for teaching and are always in need of condoms to distribute.
Past Volunteer Testimonials:
It was an amazing experience leading the Women’s Health Education Program. I really feel that this is an area of so much need in Western Kenya and this program has the potential to make such a huge impact on the region. This is one area where I feel like in a short time I was able to make a difference in at least a few people’s lives.
-Cassia Cearley, Consultant, Chicago, IL, U.S.A.
The Women’s Empowerment Program provides volunteers with the opportunity to share knowledge which we, just by virtue of growing up in a privileged part of the globe, have always taken for granted. With women who are hearing this information for the first time, such knowledge can make a very real and, hopefully, positive impact on their lives. Even the slightest effort goes such a long way in Western Kenya. Simply by bringing two worlds together, ICODEI is helping forge strong women and strong communities. It has been beyond wonderful to be part of that process
-Crystal Scialla, Law Student, New York, NY, U.S.A.
Working with some of the women in rural Western Kenya was one the most rewarding experiences I've had. It was very interesting to discover that most of the women lack basic knowledge of their health and had many misconceptions. I not only got to share my knowledge with them, but also spend time with some of the women in their homes. This was definitely an amazing experience and I am proud to have been a part of this program.
-Eileen, Registered Nurse, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Here are a few startling statistics relating to women in Kenya and Africa:
Pregnancy, family planning:
- 99% of global maternal deaths are in developing countries, half are in sub-Saharan Africa (9). In Kenya, 1 in 39 women die in childbirth over the course of their lives (1)
- In Kenya, 1 in 9 children is likely to die before reaching his/her fifth birthday (1)
- The average number of births per women in Kenya is 5 (1)
- Since 1990 the under-5 mortality rate and the infant mortality rate in Kenya have increased from 97 to 121 and 64 to 80, respectively (1)
- 16% of women use injectable or implantable contraception, 7.5% use the pill, 2.4% use an intrauterine device and 4.3% are sterilized (3)
- Only 1.2% of people in Kenya use a condom when having sex (3)
- Sub-Saharan Africa is home to only 10% of the world’s population but accounts for 68% of global HIV-positive people and 90% of HIV-positive children (4)
- Women make up around 60 percent of the people affected with HIV in Africa (4,6)
- The prevalence of HIV in females in Kenya is 9.2%, much higher than the 5.8% prevalence in males (8)
- The Nyanza province, where Bungoma is located, has the highest HIV prevalence in Kenya with 15.4% overall. This is double the national prevalence rate of 7.8% (8)
- In a study done in Kenya it was found that of couples where at least one partner was found to be HIV infected 41% of the time only the woman was HIV infected (5)
Women’s Rights, violence against women:
- In Kenya, women contribute up to 80% of the agriculture workforce yet only hold 1% of registered land titles in their names and around 5-6% of registered titles held in joint names (2)
- In Kenya, 32% of women ages 15-49 have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) (1)
- In Kenya, 43% of women say that their husbands alone make decisions regarding their healthcare (1)
- In Kenya, 68% of women ages 15-49 years consider a husband to be justified in hitting or beating his wife (1)
- UNICEF (2008). State of the World’s Children 2009. Maternal and Newborn Health. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/sowc09/report/report.php
- Kenya Land Alliance (2002). Gender Aspects of Land Reform. Retrieved from http://www.kenyalandalliance.or.ke/publications/booklet_constitutional_principles.pdf
- WHO and ICO HPV Information Center (2009). Human Papillomavirus and Related Cancers. Summary Report Update; Kenya. Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/hpvcentre/statistics/dynamic/ico/country_pdf/KEN.pdf
- UNAIDS (2008). Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic. Retrieved from http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/ad3eab7c#/ad3eab7c/41
- De Walque, D. (2006). Discordant Couples and HIV/AIDS Transmission in Five African Countries. Human Development and Public Services Research. Retrieved from http://econ.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/EXTDEC/EXTRESEARCH/EXTPROGRAMS/EXTPUBSERV/0,,contentMDK:21077340~pagePK:64168182~piPK:64168060~theSitePK:477916,00.html
- National AIDS Control Council (NACC) and the National AIDS and STD Control Programme (NASCOP) (2009). The Kenya 2007 HIV and AIDS Estimates. Retrieved from http://www.nacc.or.ke/2007/images/downloads/kenya_national_hiv_estimates_2007.pdf
- United Nations World Youth Report (2003). The Situation of Girls and Young Women. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unyin/documents/ch09.pdf
- National AIDS and STI Control Programme, Ministry of Health, Kenya. (NASCOP) (2007). Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey (KAIS). Retrieved from http://www.aidsportal.org/repos/KAIS%20-%20Preliminary%20Report_July%20291.pdf
- WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and The World Bank (2007). Maternal Mortality in 2005. Retrieved from http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2007/9789241596213_eng.pdf
- Maino, E (2002). Self Help Groups Empower Women. Retrieved from http://www.newsfromafrica.org/newsfromafrica/articles/art_864.html