Few things elicit sharp reactions like discussing a woman’s body and what she can or cannot do with it. From how a woman wears her hair to how she does her toenails, to how they walk, sit, stand, eat, talk, laugh, to who they love and how they choose to do so, there’s always something someone has to say. Often, that something is hardly a compliment – or a catcall dressed as one – meaning a woman and her body are objects of critique and public commentary. Objects. Period.
It is against this backdrop that since antiquity, women have always had to push back in little and big ways they could muster, and continue to do so, in a bid to assert and reassert their sense of agency, to claim and reclaim their personal and public spaces, to defend their humanity. Can I live? Seems to be the question women have been asking. Can I live in dignity? Seems to be the question women aren’t supposed to ask. But be that as it may, ‘‘We move!’’, women still say.
It is obvious, then, that the thought of a woman having the choice of motherhood – nay, any choice at all – triggers earth tremors from wherever you are to Timbuktu and back, then back to Timbuktu and back. And yet according to data by the World Health Organization, 73 million induced abortions take place worldwide annually, 45% of these being unsafe and 97% happening in developing countries. This contributes to 7.9% of maternal deaths of girls and women courtesy of poverty and/or belonging to marginalized groups – talk of marginalized groups within a marginalized group, since once you let loose the marginalization jin, it simply doesn’t stop.
According to Article 26 (IV) of the Constitution of Kenya 2010, Abortion is not permitted unless in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment of the life or health of the mother is in danger or if permitted by any other written law.
This provision of the law omits the myriad of situations that make women and young girls opt for abortions.
Tie this to social stigma and you have a problem.
As such, girls and women have always turned to backstreet clinics and practices run by quacks, turned to dangerous Do It Yourself techniques. According to a joint 2012 study done by the Ministry of Health, the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) and the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) which sampled Levels II to VI public and private health facilities within Kenya, that year alone, an estimated 464,690 induced abortions occurred in Kenya, translating to 48 induced abortions per 1000 women of reproductive age (15-49 years) at the time of reporting. Further, an estimated 157,762 women received care for complications of induced and spontaneous abortions.
Having sampled educated and uneducated women, urban and rural women, Christians, Muslims, and women of ‘other faiths’, students, unemployed and employed women as well as married, never-married and divorced women, the findings of the aforementioned study raises fundamental questions about the state of safety of women and girls as regards complications and deaths associated with unsafe abortions. The saying goes that numbers don’t lie, but will the numbers influence decision making in this regard, or is this the instance where numbers don’t count?