Thursday, May 7, 2009

Family Planning in Kenya: Insights from the Field

(This post is contributed by a lady who has donated many months of her time to help rural Kenyans cope with HIV/AIDS.)

Family planning and population control in Kenya deserves critical attention; it is a country whose population, despite being impacted by HIV/Aids, lack of health care and proper nutrition, is growing by 2.75% per year. In 1900 the population in Kenya was 1,352,000. By 2008 the population was 37,000,000. By 2050, Kenya’s population is projected to reach 65,200,000. Today, 32% of Kenyans are malnourished. Drought and climate change are reducing the nation’s ability to feed itself.

I talked to many women of childbearing age in rural Kenya. Almost all wish to limit the size of their families. Their biggest challenge is the strong Kenyan/African cultural belief in the succession of generations and of the strong tradition of ancestral power. In addition, many men measure their manhood in the number of wives and children they have and see condoms and other birth control methods as an affront. Abstinence for women is often not an option in a culture in which spousal rape or non-consensual sex is accepted as an entitlement.

Young people are slowly being educated in family planning and HIV awareness. However access to condoms and other birth control methods is sketchy in rural areas. In addition, approximately 33% of Kenya’s population is Catholic. The Pope’s recent message to Africa that the use of condoms is unacceptable exacerbates not only the issue of HIV but of population growth.

The change in culture that needs to take place for a real decline in population growth in Kenya may simply take too long to prevent a disaster. A basically corrupt and uncaring government has not supported the education and infrastructure needed to promote the need for population control in African. And the idea of negotiating cultural or behavioural change smacks of neo-colonialism if it comes from the international community.

The situation in Kenya is common to many developing nations. When a change in culture is necessary for major change, the process is ponderous and painful. And it must be coordinated and powered by the ruling government and supported by the international community.

Population control, which is a touchy phrase at best, is a political and religious hot potato. Few power structures seem willing to get burned.

1 comment: said...

Dear Hans,

Thanks for all your morally courageous and intellectually honest efforts, even though approaching threats to human wellbeing and environmental health loom ominously before us. Imagine what would immediately occur if everyone followed your good example. In the face of such daunting global challenges as humanity confronts in our time, it is so easy to curse the darkness and, by so doing, choose NOT to light candles, as you are doing. Keep lighting candles, Hans.