While Kenya is one of the most developed countries in
Africa, Kenyan women are still suffering at the hands of a male-dominated birth control system. However, according to an article yesterday by Jo Piazza on Double X, many women are going behind the backs of their husbands-and risking shame or abandonment-in order to receive government-subsidized birth control.
Piazza, who spoke with 100 Kenyan women and 25 medical
professionals during her stay in the port city of Mombasa, found that women are resorting to clandestine measures in order to regulate their number of children.
"Dr. Stephen Mwange of the Kinango District Hospital works as OB-GYN, general practitioner, oncologist, and pediatrician in the understaffed medical center outside of Mombasa. He says that in the past year, the number of women who have come to him to ask about contraception, without
their husband’s knowledge, has increased from around 100 a year to 100 a month.
In the past, he said, a wife was afraid to use contraception unless her mwenye, or husband, agreed. But now ‘what they are starting to realize is that what the mwenye doesn’t know cannot hurt him,’ Dr. Mwange explained."
While more and more women are opting for regulating their
families with the help of birth control, many men see government-funded family planning initiatives as a way of destroying Kenyan culture. Piazza points out the similarities between the attitudes of contemporary Kenyan men and
African-American men in the 1960s and 70s.
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"In a 1971 cover story for Ebony, journalist Dick Gregory wrote, ‘First the white man tells me to sit in the back of the bus. … Now that we’ve got a little taste of power, white folks want us to call a moratorium on having children.’
Much as Kenyan women do today, black women in the United States saw the issue differently then: A 1970 survey in Chicago found that 80 percent of African-American women
supported contraceptive use and 75 percent used birth control."
Perhaps it will take longer for men than for women to accept
family planning measures as steps to assist the Kenyan family, not destroy it. But until then, it seems women will continue taking Chaguo Langu (Swahili for "My Choice") without their husbands’knowledge.