SHE SOARS podcast: Youth-led activism on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights – Part 1


Episode Transcript

Madeline (00:01): Hello and welcome to SHE SOARS. Her Voice. Her Rights.

Amal (00:05): We are CARE Canada’s Youth Champions, a group of young people across Canada who are passionate advocates for Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR).

Lauren (00:13): We’re excited to discuss and raise awareness about young women’s rights and choices in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.

Amal (00:20): Together, we will explore how these global issues connect to our lives as Canadian youth and discover ways in which we can all take action.

Lauren (00:27): We will also talk about the SHE SOARS project, which improves access to health and education, which are areas we want to see change in.

Everyone (00:34): Join us!

Amal (00:40): Hello everyone. Welcome to episode three. We have a special guest with us today. Her name is Ruth. Ruth is an intersectional feminist based in Kenya with vast experience in the field of Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights. Over the years, she has worked with renowned organizations in curriculum development, deploying training for healthcare workers to challenge biases regarding Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights for women with disabilities, supporting adolescents and grassroots feminist movements in Kenya. Currently, Ruth works at Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YC), where she leads advocacy initiatives and meaningful youth engagement efforts in the YC membership and the SHE SOARS project, which is Sexual and Reproductive Health and Economic empowerment Supporting Out-of-school Adolescent girls’ Rights and Skills in Africa. So Ruth, as a young African activist, firmly believes in substantive participation of young people in decision-making spaces where young people are consulted, share power and co-create SRHR solutions with adult stakeholders following feminist leadership principles. So thank you Ruth for joining us today.

Ruth (01:53): Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Madeline (01:54): Yeah, thank you so much. It’s really great to have you here. So to start off, do you mind maybe telling us a little bit about your background and why and how you got involved with Youth Coalition?

Ruth (02:06): Okay. So my background is in Gender and Women’s Studies. I’m currently doing my Master’s in Gender and Women’s Studies. I’ve done my Bachelor’s in the same field as well and my inspiration comes from seeing the legalities of adolescents and young women here in Africa, particularly in Kenya, and wanting to make their lives better per se their Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and economic empowerment. That’s why I chose Gender and Development Studies and I’m so passionate about women, about girls and also gender non-conforming persons. So what encouraged me or inspired me to join Youth Coalition is I enjoy working with young people and I enjoy giving power and sharing power with young activists across the globe. So as you know, Youth Coalition is an international youth-led organization working at the regional, at the international and at the international level to advance Sexual and Reproductive Rights of young people. So I wanted to extend my knowledge and skills to young people and also in terms of advocacy and policymaking to ensure that policies that are enacted and implemented address the lived realities of young people and adolescents on the ground in Africa.

Lauren (03:36): Great, thank you so much for that answer. So next question for you, and this one is a few parts, but what are the needs and challenges for young women and girls in Kenya? And if you can speak to the other project countries of SHE SOARS in relation to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and maybe if you could speak a bit to any norms or attitudes that might limit access to these services or just any stories and experiences you can share to shed light on that.

Ruth (04:02): Thanks Lauren. So as you know, adolescents and young people in Africa, specifically in the three countries in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia, face quite some challenges in regards to their Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. First of all is feminization of poverty. Poverty takes a feminine face. So you find adolescent girls in Kenya, and also in Uganda and in Zambia, most of them live in informal settlements or in rural areas or in refugee settings. So because of son preference and heteropatriarchy here in Africa, you find if there is an adolescent girl and an adolescent boy who are in the same class or in the same grade, for example, and the family is going through a financial hardship, the girl will be supposed to drop out and give the chance to the adolescent boy. So you find adolescent girls are married off when they are quite young and this increases the prevalence of Child Early and Forced Marriages.

Ruth (05:06): So adolescent girls are married off without their consent and it is their parents or their guardians who consent for them, and this limits their knowledge of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. So the CSE (Comprehensive Sexuality Education), even if it’s there in some countries where the project is being implemented, it is not comprehensive. It is not evidence-based. It is not scientific and age appropriate. So you find this adolescent girl who has been married off, let’s say at 14 or at 15, they do not know, even if they want to delay pregnancies or they don’t want to have a child, they do not have the capacity to make that decision on their own. Why? Because of patriarchy. It the men who make decisions at the household level. Also, these adolescent girls do not know, even if they want to reduce their chances of getting pregnant or not want to get pregnant at all, they are not using any modern method of contraception simply because of poverty and also the norms and attitudes of health care providers in the region.

Ruth (06:18): You find health care providers perceive adolescents to be a young group. So they think they are asexual who do not need the SRHR services. So adolescents are chased in health facilities. Another thing is the policy gaps that we have in the country and also in Uganda and Zambia. So you find that we have good policies on Sexual and Reproductive Health here in Kenya, but then the problem is with the implementation. We have, for example, a very good policy now that’s in the pipeline called the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy that is still under review, but then you find the adolescent who’s supposed to be impacted by this policy, they don’t know. So people who are foreign to the needs of adolescents are the ones who are involved in the policymaking and policy review processes. So for me, I think those are the main challenges that adolescents are facing in Kenya and Uganda and Zambia, and also in relation to laws and policies are the issue of third party consent.

Ruth (07:29): For example, you find for an adolescent to access safe abortion, they need to be accompanied by their parent or their husband. So there is no room for confidentiality because the adolescent is judged. Another thing is also blanket criminalization of consensual and exploitative sexual relationships between adolescent girls and boys. I’ll give you an example because it’s something that happens so much here in Kenya and also in Uganda. You find there’s an adolescent girl who’s 16 and there’s an adolescent boy who’s 17 and the UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) and the African Children’s Charter clearly say that it gets to a point where adolescents are able to consent to services according to their age of maturity. It does not really matter if they are 18 or not. The two policies say that it reaches a point where adolescents’ evolving capacities should be taken into consideration, but then you find our local laws on the ground still criminalize consensual sex among adolescents leading to imprisonment of adolescent boys and also lack of access to SRHR services like safe abortion to adolescent girls. So until we have enabling policies on SRHR and until we shift the norms and practices of health care providers and of parents, I think that’s when we will be able to advance the Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights of adolescents in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.

Amal (09:11): Thank you so much Ruth. You mentioned a few challenges like feminization of poverty and provider challenges. So what are some of the ways that the SHE SOARS project has been beginning to address these gaps and challenges so far?

Ruth (09:27): So as you know, the SHE SOARS project is a multi-stakeholder project. By the end of the project, we want to increase enjoyment of fundamental human rights in relation to adolescents, both girls and boys. So we have four pillars in the project. We have the first pillar, pillar 1100, that aims to create an enabling environment to adolescents so this means it aims to create demand for SRHR services to adolescents through having role model boys’ and girls’ curriculums where in these curriculums boys and girls are trained on how to demystify the misconception of masculinity, especially for boys, and how to deconstruct patriarchy, which is always socialized to adolescents while they grow up. Through pillar 1100, the project partners, who are CARE and Restless Development, and also the local implementing partners hold intergenerational dialogues with parents and religious leaders so that they debunk myths and norms about Sexual and Reproductive Health needs and rights of adolescents.

Ruth (10:42): And we also have a component of Youth Loan and Savings Associations because as you know, Sexual and Reproductive Health goes in hand with economic empowerment. So what the project is currently doing is those adolescents who do not want to go back to school are trained on economic empowerment measures and how to start a saving culture when they are young. And then we have another pillar, pillar 1200, which aims to strengthen health systems. So I mentioned in the barriers previously that health care providers are one of the biggest challenges to adolescents accessing Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights. So because, you know, the equilibrium balance: demand goes in hand with supply. So when there is increased demand, we also want there to be increased services. So training health care partners and training health care providers on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights of adolescents and ensuring that they change their perceptions about adolescents’ Sexual and Reproductive Health.

Ruth (11:51): One thing about SHE SOARS is we are doing, through pillar 1200, something called a whole facility training approach where teams – CARE, Restless Development and local partners – train everyone in the entire facility from the gate person to the receptionist to the health care providers. Then the health care providers are given a clinical training package in relation to their work. And then we have Pillar 1300 that Youth Coalition is co-leading with the Center for Reproductive Rights. And this pillar is on advocacy. So this pillar, what we do is intentionally capacity build grassroots women’s rights organizations and youth-led organizations through provision of subgrants to them so that they can implement activities on SRHR advocacy. We also capacity build them to ensure that their advocacy is evidence-based and sustainable so that they’re able to hold duty-bearers accountable in the regional level and also in the national level to ensure that the laws that are passed and enacted take a meaningful youth engagement perspective, addressing the unique needs of out-of-school adolescents. Then also the public engagement pillar, which you are leading. This pillar aims to engage Canadians as global citizens to foster cross-regional solidarity.

Ruth (13:23): So the SHE SOARS project is a gender transformative and sustainable change project and it aims to tackle all the challenges that I mentioned holistically through different partners.

Madeline (13:36): Thank you so much, Ruth. That’s really interesting and really great to hear from someone who’s really on the ground and seeing all the project activities firsthand. I know the project is still a bit in early stages at this point, but can you maybe tell us about any particular positive changes that you’ve already observed taking place in Kenya since the project has begun? Or if you can’t think of anything off the top of your head, if there’s a specific potential impact that you’re most looking forward to achieving or hoping to achieve?

Ruth (14:07): So I’ll say the project has really gained visibility here in Kenya and it’s evident through social media and through the interactions, especially on LinkedIn, that we are having through the social media analytics. One of the impacts that we have done here in Kenya as partners implementing the advocacy pillar is last year we co-developed – Youth Coalition and the Center for Reproductive Rights – we co-wrote a submission to the head of reproductive health here in Kenya concerning the National Adolescent and Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy that is still under review. So as Youth Coalition, because we are the expert of MYE, Meaningful Youth Engagement and participation, we gave them some of the recommendations that they can apply when reviewing this policy to ensure it takes an MYE perspective and also the Center gave their vast knowledge on legal matters in terms of SRHR.

Ruth (15:10): So through us coming together and collaborating, this submission was well accepted by the Ministry of Health and some of the provisions that we made were included in the draft by the Ministry of Health. So this shows that SHE SOARS is gaining some momentum and also some visibility on different project sites per se here in Kenya. So the final draft of this policy is not yet out but at least we know the Center for Reproductive Rights confirmed that some of the aspects that we gave to the government, the Ministry of Health, specifically around Meaningful Youth Engagement were incorporated. And once we have the final version of this adolescent health policy, this will be an advocacy win for the SHE SOARS project entirely.

Lauren (16:01): Thank you so much for all of those insightful answers that really provided a lot of good context for us about what the project is actually looking like on the ground. So it’s great to hear your perspective on that. Stay tuned for the next segment of this conversation where we are going to be talking about the role of youth engagement in this project and more broadly the role of youth activism in the global Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights movement. And we’re luckily going to be joined by Ruth again for this conversation. So stay tuned for that.

Madeline (16:27): Yeah, thanks everyone. Bye.

Amal (16:29): Thank you.

Lauren (16:30): Thanks.

Ruth (16:31): Thank you. Bye.

Amal (16:35): Thanks for listening to SHE SOARS. If you liked this episode, please share it on social media, connect with us in the comments or give us a like.

Lauren (16:42): Make sure to catch our next episode by subscribing to our channel and following us wherever you get your podcasts.

Madeline (16:47): Follow @carecanada on Instagram for updates on our show and the project.

Lauren (16:54): SHE SOARS stands for Sexual and reproductive Health and Economic empowerment supporting Out-of-school Adolescent girls’ Rights and Skills in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.

Madeline (17:04): The project is funded by Global Affairs Canada. Check out our global partner organizations:

Amal (17:09): Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Restless Development for even more project updates.

Lauren (17:18): Thanks again for listening. Until next time!