Leila Abdulkeir, twenty-five (Photo) is a woman on a mission.
Although she comes from a conservative background, she has chosen a path that is sure to cause concern within her community.
Leila lobbies for the adoption of family planning and other sexual and reproductive health rights among her people.
We met the little woman from the Mnarani dispensary in County Kilifi.
As Chair of the Kilifi Youth Advisory Council for Health and Executive Director of Youth Voices and Action Initiative, Leila has moved mountains in her quest to ensure young people in Kilifi County can access the sexual and reproductive health services they need. .
She fought for young women aged 15 to 24 to have access to contraceptives, an initiative that has gone a long way in reducing teenage pregnancies and unwanted pregnancies in Kilifi, despite criticism from religious leaders and the community for what they call an “immoral” mission.
“When we engaged men and asked them to take up family planning, many wondered what we (the women) were telling them,” Leila said.
But Leila won’t be deterred – she has a deep passion for women’s rights. She laments that Muslim women often do not have a platform where they can articulate issues that affect their reproductive health, as the religion holds sexual matters sacred.
“The ‘Mwenye syndrome’ (a belief that husbands own their wives and that the man’s word is final) is an obstacle to our advocacy work. Many young women cannot make decisions affecting their reproductive health. The husband or mother-in-law must give consent before the young woman is put on birth control,” Leila said.
Leila, who is of Somali descent, has used her leadership position on the Kilifi Youth Advisory Council to establish Youth Health Advisory Councils in various neighborhoods of the county and has initiated dialogues with older men and women on the need for teenage girls to embrace the family. planning methods.
She said they have started involving their partners (husbands) and older women and sensitizing them on the need to empower girls to make their own decisions about issues affecting their bodies.
His efforts are paying off. According to the Kilifi County State of Family Planning report released last December, the number of teenage pregnancies in Kilifi has fallen from 31% to 13.6% over the past two years.
For this success and to make her work sustainable, she is working with the Binti kwa Binti program with the help of the county government.
The program is an initiative that brings women and girls together to help improve their reproductive health.
Different health structures
“Pregnant women are mobilized and gathered at different health facilities across the county on ‘Maternity Day’ every four weeks where they receive family planning services,” Leila explains.
Performance Monitoring for Action (PMA) Kenya data for Kilifi County shows that over the past two years, about nine out of 10 women using a female-controlled modern contraceptive method in Kilifi said their partners knew that they were using a family planning method.
At least 84% of women discussed with their husband before opting for family planning.
“Family planning ensures that girls are not exposed to health-related complications resulting from early pregnancy. They can avoid unwanted pregnancies and only have babies when they are the right age and have the resources to care for their children,” Leila said.
Leila said lack of information on sexual health and family planning was one of the main factors that saw Kilifi record an increase in teenage pregnancies.
“Parents do not talk freely about sex with teenagers and most deny that children are sexually active. When girls get pregnant, they are forced to get married immediately to protect the family’s reputation,” Leila said.
Meanwhile, Leila says her group is helping girls who drop out of school after becoming pregnant start income-generating activities so they can take care of their babies.
Kadzo Katana, 19, from Rabai in Kilifi County is a mother of two children aged 3 and 18 months. She is a beneficiary of Leila’s work.
“I first got pregnant at 16 when I was in second grade and dropped out of school. When the baby was a year old, I got pregnant again. The first was from a driver from boda boda and the second from a truck driver,” Kadzo said.
Kadzo said the rider used to buy her sanitary pads and gave in to his sexual advances as a sign of appreciation.
Shortly after becoming pregnant, the rider left.
The truck driver took care of her when she was pregnant with her first child and after she gave birth, but disappeared when she became pregnant with the second child.
Kilifi County Reproductive Health Coordinator Kenneth Miriti said that thanks to Leila’s work and the work of other advocates and partners, uptake of family planning methods has increased from 30% in 2018 to 70% in 2022.
He says more than 17,000 teenage mothers have now adopted family planning methods.