By Maureen Odour, Kenya
In my community, being a girl is like putting together a really difficult puzzle. Being a girl can often mean that the different pieces of you don’t quite fit together. You should not be well-educated, and your place is in the kitchen. You should learn to take care of your husband and children, but at the same a girl can be a child herself when she becomes a bride. She shouldn’t be confident enough to questions issues, make choices, and explore her potential, but must be strong enough to carry these burdens. This makes it difficult to be a girl in my community.
I broke through this painful reality to become a women’s rights activist. I didn’t want to see even one more girl go through this process of trying to fit these jagged pieces together. For many girls, this can feel like imprisonment, where their voices are silenced and their rights are violated. This drives me to support these girls and women to live a worthwhile life that they love.
My zeal to talk loudly about reproductive health was born when I witnessed a girl die helplessly due to unsafe abortion. She didn’t have access to information or resources about how to prevent pregnancy in the first place, and she also lacked choices when it came to accessing reproductive health options, including safe abortion services. As a girl growing up in a rural community, I never had resources or power to help out my peers. This meant I witnessed a lot of suffering. All the same, I realized eventually that my voice is a very powerful tool that I can use to help girls my community, and that drove me to action.
In my community, a super woman and decent girl is one who dies in silence and let others make decisions for her. I have seen situations where a pregnant woman in labor cannot be allowed to rush to the health facility because the husband is still yet to give consent. This usually means they end up in a grave. I am talking of a community where a normal biological process such as menstruation can shatter a girl’s future; sometimes it means she misses school because there are no facilities; sometimes it means she must trade sex for pads, which can lead to teenage pregnancy, unsafe abortion, or HIV/AIDS. People in my community pretend not to know that just like girls need books, school uniforms, and pens, they need sanitary towels and supplies. This is still a dream in my community.
At the decision-making table, where resources are allocated, young women and adolescents girls are not welcome. Their voices are never heard nor do their perspectives count, even though the outcome affects them the most adversely. Even though there is legislation in the Kenyan parliament right now that would help to address gender inequality in all its forms, the male-dominated parliament ensures that this dream of equality is yet to become a reality.
These are just few of major challenges women go through in my community. However this doesn't mean that things cannot change. I am a believer in lasting change, and I strongly believe that if efforts, investments, and good will are all put towards women and girls in my community things will change for brighter economy and society. This will come true if we engage at different levels, and if everyone does a small part. When a few people come together and use their voices in support of women and girls, we become one very loud collective voice that nobody can ignore.
Girls and women are the drivers of development and powerful agent of change in our communities. They not only deliver for themselves if enabled, but for the families, communities, and societies. If their opportunities are taken away because they are married early or face an unplanned pregnancy, or because they can’t go to school when they have their period, the entire world suffers the consequences. Women have the power to deliver babies and make world beautiful, but we can’t do that if the pieces fall apart during our adolescence.
#YoungWomenSay is a collaboration between Say It Forward and The Torchlight Collective in support of International Youth Day (#IYD2016). This campaign features blogs from incredible young women from around the world about their experiences overcoming adversity. Each story shared will spark a $5.00 donation to the Midwives Forward campaign of the Family Care International program of Management Sciences for Health. We invite you to follow Say It Forward on Twitter and follow The Torchlight Collective on Facebook, Twitter and #TheTorchlightCollective
Maureen Oduor is young ASRH activist and alumnus of Women Deliver Young Leaders Program born and raised in Kenya, with over eight years’ experience working directly in grass root communities, advancing adolescent girls and women access to reproductive health rights and needs. Currently in Tanzania, she works with Service Health and Development for People Living Positively with HIV/AIDS Muheza branch (SHDEPHA+) as ASRH regional coordinator. Prior to joining SHDEPHA+, she worked on youth mobilization at African Peace Ambassadors Tanzania and Kisumu Medical education trust in Kenya, a leading grass roots reproductive health advocacy and provider in western part of Kenya. Maureen is also Co-founder of Tembea Youth Center for Sustainable Development a youth led organization in Western Kenya. She developed an mobile app allowing young people to access comprehensive and confidential sexual health information. Maureen was a critical facilitator in creating the Marie Stopes International Youth Films in Tanzania.