Reproductive Health Organizations Embrace Cross-Sectoral Partnerships in AfricaJuly 18, 2013 By Swara Salih
“The places in the world where the environment is most fragile, women’s health is most fragile,” said Leila Darabi, director of global communications for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, at the Wilson Center. “The negative impacts on the environment tend to affect women the most. Women are the people who are planting kitchen gardens, women are traditional healers, and so they often feel the impact first when those things are degraded.”
Darabi spoke on a panel of program coordinators and directors from the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), the Kenyan National Council for Population and Development, and the UZIMA Foundation about the links between women’s health, youth empowerment, the environment, and climate change in Africa.
A Network for More Than Women’s Health
Founded in 1971 by representatives from Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Mauritius, and Madagascar, Regional Director Lucien Kouakou said the Africa branch of IPPF now includes 42 sub-Saharan African country members, 2,958 clinic-based health care outlets, and 8,428 non-clinic based health care outlets.
Jane Godia on championing women’s rights and population issues in Kenya
IPPF recognizes the “complex, critical links” between sustainable development, climate change, food security, and sexual and reproductive rights, said Kouakou. “The rapid degradation of natural resources has resulted in repeated droughts and increased risk of conflict between communities and, therefore, displacement of a number of people crossing borders and becoming refugees.”
In addition to providing the voluntary family planning and sexual and reproductive health services that many know them for, Kouakou noted that IPPF also does crisis response and recovery (providing relief to Somalis displaced by famine in Ethiopia and Kenya, for example), education and empowerment of women and young people, and advocacy about the links between the environment, population, and development.
Youth and Land in Kenya
Representatives from the UZIMA Foundation, one of IPPF’s partners, and the National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) spoke about their efforts to tackle both health and environment issues in Kenya.
“Uzima is the Swahili word for ‘abundant life,’” said UZIMA co-founder Miriam K. Were:
Our aspiration is that our youth will have abundant life. UZIMA was started in 1995, by a group of us who felt that our youth were really desperate; they were coming to us in groups asking for help. In those days in Kenya, we didn’t have free education at all, so you were finding teenagers who were illiterate, and you just wonder how an illiterate teenager could survive in the 20th century.
“Rather than develop a program and then take it to them, we decided to have discussions with them, to say ‘What are the issues in your lives that you would like to see solutions to?’” Were said.
UZIMA works with young people to engage them about the importance of practicing safe sex, civic involvement, and protecting their natural resources. In urban areas, Were said the foundation runs a program where youth clean up their streets and residents pay them for their public service. In rural areas, due to concerns about food security, UZIMA youth help construct bench terracing on farmland to stop soil erosion.
Were believes that early education on education health should be made available to young girls. If children have questions about their reproductive health, “we don’t send them away,” she said, “The mistake we have been making with family planning messages has been that we wait until people are married, then we start talking to them.”
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The population of Kenya has nearly quadrupled in the past 40 years, growing from 11.2 million to more than 40.9 million, according to the UN Population Division. This is a challenge in a country where subsistence farming is still the primary way of life for the majority of people. “As people get more children every time and subdivide the land there is very low productivity and therefore food insecurity,” said George Kichamu, the deputy director for communications advocacy and public education at NCPD. In interviews with farmers, Kichamu said two out of three told them that there was “insufficient land for their children to become farmers.”
“Whatever campaigns we have been carrying out in the country, we have brought the issue of environment, why they need to sustain environment, why they need to address these issues,” he said.
The NCPD hopes to improve the usage of population data in environmental planning and resource management. “If you plan your family, how does that result into land usage, land acreage, and so on and so forth? How does it relate to water, food availability, [and] insecurity?” Kichamu suggested.
Kichamu said they have been doing policy communication training with the Population Reference Bureau to train ‘champions’ to be able to talk about the integrated population, health, and environment (PHE) approach. “Every year, we train about 20 people from various area sectors so that as they go out they are able to pass the messages and engage leaders in these particular issues. Since we started this program in 2005 we have had about 140 champions at various institutions and at various levels.”
Reaching Across Sectors, Expanding Services
Besides Kenya, IPPF and its partners have been active in cross-sector development efforts elsewhere on the continent. The Youth Action Movement, for example, encourages young people to advocate for sustainable development and other priorities, and the federation has contributed to research on how environmental degradation, food insecurity, and land use contribute to HIV/AIDS. IPPF also works in crisis zones, from Cote d’Ivoire and Mali to Ethiopia, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Niger, Somalia, and Congo.
Showcasing the results of a six-year survey, Kouakou said that the number of people reached by IPPF’s services has increased substantially in recent years. Family planning services reached 24.3 million people in 2012, he said, compared to 4.1 million in 2007; HIV/AIDS services reached 5.9 million, up from 657,000 people; and the number of young people reached by sexual and reproductive health services increased from 2.8 million to 14.6 million.
“We want to be ambitious,” Kouakou said. “By 2020 we want to triple our service statistics based on the 2010 service statistics.”
Sources: International Planned Parenthood Federation, International Union for Conservation of Nature, UN Population Division.
Photo Credit: A Kenyan mother and child in Mwea, courtesy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.