Why do we forget that Young Women are Youth too?
International Youth Day 2021 would not have come at a better time than around the Olympics period. This Sports season serves as a reminder of the impact of investing in young people in Sports on individuals, families, businesses, countries and global discourses. Congratulations to all Kenyans who represented us in Tokyo!
As we commemorate International Youth Day today, my thoughts are with all young women; their experiences and the narratives told on youth development, youth participation in crucial processes such as politics, policy and economics, youth unemployment, challenges facing the youth; and the opportunities identified by public and private agencies for the youth. Specifically, my thoughts are with young women in Kenya, and the teenage girls who are very few months or years to joining the youth bracket. One thing in my thoughts is clear – we must remember that young women are part of the youth!
As a young woman myself, I have seen firsthand the invisibility (sometimes by design) of women’s contribution to key processes and the erasure of women’s needs in the narratives told in Board rooms, media stories, government and NGO interventions. In addition to unemployment which ranks at over 10% in Kenya and the highest in EAC, young women face numerous other challenges that young men do not. The rampant rape culture, murder, physical and sexual violence, teenage pregnancies and school dropouts are major hindrances to young women’s advancement. In March 2020, Joseph Kinyua Murimi (suspected lover) raped and brutally murdered 24-year-old Velvine Nungari. In the same month, Moses Njoroge pushed down 20-year-old Eunice Wangari from a restaurant window on 12th floor on their first date, for rejecting his sexual advances, causing her major injuries.
According to the Kenya Data and Health Survey (2014), over 13,000 teenage girls drop out of school annually because of pregnancy. In June 2020, the most heartbreaking news was that since lockdown due to Covid-19, more than 100,000 teenage school girls were expectant, and according to Plan International Kenya, most of the girls had sex for pads. A worrying number of teenage girls also sat their national exams while pregnant. A study supported by UNICEF in 2020 showed that 33% of adolescent girls aged 15-19 in Homa Bay County are mothers or pregnant with their first child. These are just but a few challenges facing teenage girls and young women in Kenya, limiting them from competitively engaging in the job market, networking and political processes. They bear heavy costs on future families, our economy and governance.
The effects of teenage pregnancies bear personal, family and societal effects. Research has shown that teenage pregnancies are linked to trauma (sometimes for a lifetime), school dropouts, foetal death, malnutrition and vicious poverty. Gender and sexual based violence cause death, low self-esteem, jobloss, drugs and substance abuse, and self-harm. Despite all the challenges affecting young women, these concerns have not been sufficiently highlighted in major platforms as they should. It calls for collaborative efforts by concerned government agencies, the media, religious and learning institutions, in consultation with teenage girls and young women both in rural and urban areas to address these issues sustainably.
Young women’s issues need to be highlighted and acted upon with the urgency they deserve. So on this International Youth Day, I pose a question to political aspirants who are already in campaign mode: what plans do you have for teenage girls and young women in your ward, constituency, county and in Kenya? They are not only your potential voters, but also young people and citizens of Kenya, deserving your attention before and during your tenure and as you draft your manifestos. And to government and non-governmental agencies I ask: what specific plans do you have for young women in the communities you work in? Now is a good time for an honest reflection. And while at it, we must strive to include the effects of teenage pregnancies, female genital mutilation (FGM), violence against young women and young women’s unpaid care work on youth development and young people’s participation in governance processes.
This year’s theme for the International Youth Day is “ Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health”. The role of women in food security and sovereignty cannot be overemphasized. Women make up majority of food producers world over, and in a global era that seeks innovative and sustainable food production systems, we must act to ensure that young women are supported in their access to requisite skills, knowledge and tools to be food innovators and producers, and to afford quality food consumption. This will only be achieved if we ensure that women’s independence and productivity are guaranteed through access to, and completion of quality education by all teenage girls; and that women’s safety is assured through robust coordination of community sensitization about forms of sexual harassment and violations, and stern action taken against sexual violators and murderers. In addition, comprehensive sex education and 100% re-entry to school by teen mothers are urgent needs in all counties. Such actions will set the pace in combating teenage pregnancies, defilement and rape culture.
To government agencies, non-governmental organizations, faith-based organizations, community leaders, youth leaders and people of goodwill I say, prioritize these issues that hinder young women from socio-economic and political engagement, because young women are youth too.
Stella Nderitu is the founder of DadaPower Initiative. firstname.lastname@example.org