It starts with a conversation—and for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), a frank one at that. But how do we openly discuss these sensitive subjects, about some of the most intimate parts of our lives?
In 2006, TICAH started ‘Our Bodies, Our Choices,’ a safe space for HIV-positive Kenyan women to talk about our health, our needs and the gaps that persisted in our healthcare system. We gathered monthly to share experiences, ask questions and find solutions together.
Speaking freely in these meetings helped us realize that spaces to discuss sexuality would benefit everyone, not only HIV-positive women. To truly address the gaps in health, we needed more people to join this conversation on SRHR. But for more women and men to learn about their own sexual and reproductive health, we needed to create spaces that felt safe and confidential to all.
We have since hosted safe spaces for conversations and learning about sex and sexuality with both HIV-positive and –affected women and men. We have reached LGBTI people, and youth both in and out of school, adolescent mothers, community health workers, university and college students, women with disabilities, and sex workers.
These conversations were only the beginning!
Reflecting the complexity of issues related to sex, sexuality and health, our work has expanded and now includes sexual and gender-based violence, Comprehensive Sexuality Education, leadership, contraception, safe birth practices, MNCH, safe abortion, and advocacy, among others.
And while these conversations were critical, we also found a huge gap in health service provision, especially for safe abortion. As a result, we started the Aunty Jane hotline. Women can now call directly—at a subsidized rate—to be connected with service providers with confidence and confidentiality.
Aunty Jane has helped increase callers’ knowledge on SRHR, understand the choices available to them, and how to make safe and healthy choices. Callers are linked to critical SRH services, demonstrate improved self-esteem, leadership and decision making skills, and improved standards of living. Making space to talk about sex and sexuality has also empowered girls and women to raise their voices on wider community issues that affect them, from demanding youth-focused sexual health to stopping child marriage and early exposure to sex. Challenging social stigma around sex and building knowledge about SRHR have created a positive ripple effect within their communities.
These are the facts, but there are also stories to prove it which highlight participants mobilizing for change.
Story 1 – Young girls mobilizing to stop child marriage
In 2017, a 13 year old girl from our sexuality school club—for students aged 12-15—eloped with her boyfriend. The girls in the club mobilized themselves to find her. When they arrived at the house where the couple was living, they started making noise to catch the attention of neighbors. The man was arrested and the girl has since finished her primary school education and is now in high school.
Story 2 – Youth community action
In Nairobi, youth from one of the city’s low income communities shared how local video dens expose children to pornography at a very young age, with cases of child sexual misconduct happening within these dens.
In discussion groups, the youth developed a strategy to protect others in their community. Upon mobilizing, they approached the chief of the area, argued their case and together visited all the video dens with the chief. Together they drafted rules of operation, which barred children from entering the dens while adult videos were shown. This youth-led solution now prevents sexual misconduct committed against children, while stopping the exposure of children to sex at such a young age.
Story 3 – Making changes where we can
Finding no youth-friendly reproductive health services at a local health center, a youth participant set up her own youth-friendly desk within the center. She sat there everyday, ensured that young people accessed information at the desk and personally took them for health services. As a result of her initiative, the health center set up a youth-friendly service unit.
What started as private discussion groups on SRHR has blossomed into youth-led community efforts—a clear indication that comprehensive sexuality education works. When adolescents and young people have the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed for SRHR, they are set up for a full and healthy life that positively impacts their communities too.