Connecting The Dots Between Environmental Well being And Women’s Sexual Health
“When I first started, it was really an innocent response to the needs of women in rural areas. When we started planting trees to meet their needs, there was nothing beyond that. I did not see all the issues that I have to come to deal with,” Wangari Maathai.
Women in Kenya live in a society where they statistically make up 70% of people living under the poverty line. A lot is expected of us, even at our lowest. It was not until recently that I acquired knowledge on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)—yes, late in my early adulthood.
Sometime in September 2015, I was lucky to attend training at the GoDown Art Centre relating to the UN International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in 1994 that gave SRHR a strong exposure at a global level.
The UN Commission on Population and Development is a major reference point in the development of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that touched on SRHR. The goals, which are part of the plan of action for people, planet and prosperity highlight key human challenges including issues on gender disparities.
During the training on SRHR, participants were asked to review the goals one by one picking the ones that were directly connected to sexual rights, sexual health, reproductive health and reproductive rights. My environmental subconscious tells me that SRHR discussion must consider the connection between the environmental well being and sexual and reproduction health. This was, however, not received well and I was accused of imposing the gratuitous connection on the matter to save face.
While undertaking my studies back in Pwani University, I sat for a unit titled “Occupational Health and Safety”. At that point in time, the Unit did not make much sense because I could not draw the connection between environmental conservation and gender issues. One year down the line, as a practicing environmentalist, I have visited various local communities and interacted with especially rural women and now understand and appreciate their plight in terms of food, energy and water daily requirements.
We do appreciate that the seventeen SDGs and 169 targets that were adopted at the just concluded UN Conference are inclusive, holistic, universal and equitable. Focusing my argument on women, who as I mentioned above are the mirrors of the society and therefore have surmountable responsibility of ensuring prosperity of the society inevitably makes them responsible for the resources that are base on livelihoods hence their connection to SDGs goal 14 and 15 on marine and terrestrial ecosystems respectively.
Women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are overlooked as pressure to conform to societal obligations that relates to energy, water and food production in the rural areas. Social studies, for example have shown that a man in Kilifi spends most of the day [beating] stories over mnazi coffee Thungu and jugu (peanuts) at shopping centres. At the end of the day this man refers to his counterpart as a “dead fish” or an “overturned cockroach” when his “expectations” from his wife are not met in the “chambers of secrets”. Where would a woman like this get time to learn the new tricks in the book, or get clean water to take two showers a day to make her more confident and dominating?
It is through the dynamic qualities of women that they are able to feed, and carry out their traditional roles, which feminists around the world are demanding compensation, for what they term as unpaid care. Indeed it is often said that “Women use all the four parts of their brains “ at all times while men on use only “one part at a time”. Women and men perceive risks and opportunity differently which begs for the question, do we need different policies and implementation strategies, when it comes to matters of SRHR? Interestingly, whatever affects a woman affects the man and vise versa.
Environmental hazards do not discriminate. Men as much as women suffer when environmental goods and services are negatively impacted on. Protecting terrestrial and marine ecosystems bring forth more satisfaction that many do not realise. As a civilized society, Kenya needs to move in tandem with other civilized societies and prepare appropriate SRHR policies, strategies and legislation that help implement the globally negotiated seventeen SDGs and 169 targets for prosperity.