Dollarman Fatinato, a youth advocate in Kenya, reflects on COVID-19’s impact on youth and on the civil society efforts aimed to improve sexual and reproductive health and rights in his country.
After reporting the first case of coronavirus ( Covid-19) in Kenya, drastic changes were incorporated as a measure to combat the spread of the virus, and among them was the enforcement of partial lockdown and social distancing. Before this pandemic, just like any other developing countries, Kenya was at the peak of fighting teenage pregnancy where almost 1 in every 5 girls between the age of 15-19 years old were reported to be either pregnant or having a child as indicated by the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Collective efforts have been demonstrated through partnerships to keep girls in school as a strategy to curb the rise in teenage pregnancy but with the indefinite closure of schools, we might be making several strides backward again if action is not taken.
With the ongoing pandemic response, governments and civil society organizations (CSOs) that play vital roles in ensuring steady access to reproductive health information and services among vulnerable groups have experienced a shift in their primary focus with disseminating SRHR information and commodities to aid in the COVID-19 response. The unintended consequence of this is the prolonged neglect of the most pressing reproductive health needs of young people brought about by the diversion of resources to address this corona problem.
Without knowing how long it will take us to flatten the curve and get back to normal, many adolescent girls and young women are at a greater risk of experiencing poor reproductive health outcomes if the current status of affairs persists. For a long time, schools have acted as distribution centers for essential commodities such as sanitary towels. But with their closure, most vulnerable girls are unlikely to access sanitary pads and this alone is a big issue that requires attention and quick action.
Not forgetting that during this pandemic, some people are taking advantage of the disrupted system to conduct female genital mutilation (FGM) which deprives girls of their basic human right to live a painless and free life. In the recent past, we have read reports published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) raising alarm over the rise of FGM. With the current COVID-19, perpetrators of this act are taking advantage of the lockdown and closure of school to accomplish their ill mission. The Central government and local administration should remain vigilant and ensure that all young girls and women people feel safe and protected from harmful practices like female genital mutilation during this pandemic.
As youth advocates in Kenya, we have tried our best to fight for the rights and access to reproductive health services for young people. Before the identification of the first COVID-19 case in Kenya, we youth advocates submitted a memo to the parliamentary health committee for the reproductive health bill, which was a remarkable step towards safeguarding reproductive health and rights for all youth in Kenya. Suddenly with the onset of the pandemic, that has to be on hold as the Parliament has shifted its focus to other urgent needs of the public.
Regarding youth mental health during this crisis, young people are suffering the most due to their inability to engage in work as usual and this renders their anxiety and depression over the need to meet their basic expenses. As the government and other philanthropic individuals come to help, it is important to prioritize young people because they are at a point in life where they can do anything including risky sexual trade to put food on the table and earn a living.
About Dollarman Fatinato: Dollarman Fatinato is a 23-year-old youth advocate who is passionate about young people’s health in line with sexual and reproductive health, particularly the access to youth-friendly health services including family planning services and he does budget advocacy to ensure budget allocation on the same. He is a youth advocate with Youth in Action, a proven youth leader, demographic dividend champion, and a peer consultant. Dollarman is an active member of St. John’s Ambulance Kenya, a volunteer emergency respondent.