For Kenyan Women, Repeal of the Global Gag Rule Means Safety and Health

Florence Machio

A word of warning to African governments: don't wait for Obama alone to provide contraceptive security for your female citizens.

It was a beautiful day, and everybody was excited…the man
who was born of a Kenyan father had decided to lift the global gag rule.  In doing so he had helped to save his
sisters, mothers and aunts back in Africa. Tears streamed down so many eyes as
it started sinking in that it was actually true: the gag rule had been lifted…
I could not hold back tears as I stayed glued to the TV in Nairobi taking in
the story.

Even as President Obama entered his new position of power, he was quick
to remind the American people, as well as the rest of world, that we were going
to face challenges. I agree with him that we are facing challenges, but I
believe that we will overcome them if we work together. Acknowledging we still
face problems resonated well with my country Kenya and also with African women
at large.

The last many years of Bush’s rule saw a decline in
contraceptive security in countries like mine. But it also brought a new way of
thinking. Why can’t our own governments commit to protecting their own mothers,
wives and daughters from unwanted pregnancies and unnecessary abortions?

2015, the target date by which the global community intends to reach the Millennium Development Goals, is not far away and maternal mortality poses a greater
danger to this resilient continent than ever before. I believe Obama has
demonstrated his appreciation for where he comes from by the stroke of his pen.
Mothers in this part of the world would say "We
are glad that you have returned us to the days when we can access family
planning services irrespective of how rich or poor we are." Having healthy women will make a whole lot of difference: when we are healthy
we will continue tilling the land and feeding our nations. When we are healthy
we will continue taking care of children whose fathers left them. When we are
healthy we will actualize what Ted Turner said: "I think we men have messed up
the world and should just move over and allow the women to do it."

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After peace was restored in Kenya following months of political unrest, women candidates won elections by a landslide majority and continued to even in subsequent elections. What that
means is that the Kenyan voter has realized that it’s about time he or she give a
woman the chance to represent the country’s citizens in elected office. I feel like we have
voted twice. First we have increased the number of women in Parliament but
secondly we have been given an opportunity to protect ourselves from unintended

Even though the US elections are big news in this part of
the world, I cannot resist warning African governments and especially mine:
Don’t wait for Obama to do what you were supposed to do from the beginning, and
provide contraceptive security to your women. I am happy that funding for UNFPA
will be restored and more women will be reached but I don’t want our
governments to sit on their laurels.

African governments should now follow Obama’s example and
put a pen to paper saying that a budget line for contraceptives is mandatory,
and that mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that every woman on the
continent have access to the family planning method she wants when she needs
it. The recession does not reduce the importance of the budget line at all!

In Kenya the budget line for education does not fluctuate based on the country’s financial footing. The same should apply to family planning.

On behalf of the women and girls of Africa, I say thank you
once again for making it so that a woman will be able to get the contraceptive
she needs when she needs it. 
Contraceptive access will reduce the chances of women dying. While
African governments are still behaving as if our mother’s lives are not worth
saving, it’s imperative that you Americans help African women by cracking the
whip on corrupt African governments. It’s this corruption that takes away money
which could otherwise go to organizations dealing with the reproductive health
and rights of women.

By reducing the number of women who die or are injured, we
can increase the number of women who make it to decision-making positions.

Obama has given African women something to help them make
the right choices, but our governments also need to take responsibility. By his
signature many women are going to be saved but…our governments owe it to us
to do more than expect handouts where women’s lives are concerned.

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