Learning and talking about women’s health can be a challenge in Kenya and many other countries. Talking about periods, for example, is almost impossible for some girls, but this silence can be dangerous in the long-term, leaving women and girls ill equipped to take precautions that could be life-changing.
Keen to highlight the issue and break the silence on unspeakable health issues, we teamed up with pioneering organisation Vijana Amani Pamaja (VAP), who are creating safe spaces for women to discuss social and health issues.
Together with VAP, we delivered our first photography programme in Kenya, aiming to build girls’ confidence and communication skills, and providing them with a base of strength to speak up about the issues affecting them.
Learning about and accessing sexual health can be a challenge in Kenya, with only 45% of women in Kenya currently having access to contraception (WHO). This is concerning when globally, young women (10- 24) are twice as likely to contract HIV than their male counterparts (AVERT, Global information on HIV and AIDS). It’s also most concerning for women who live in poorer parts of Kenya, such as the Kibera slum, where 1 in 3 women were found to have experienced sexual abuse. Equally, abortion in Kenya is currently illegal, leaving nearly 465,000 Kenyan women to resort to illegal procedures each year, according to KMA, and contributing to the 488 in every 100,000 Kenyan women who currently die in childbirth (WHO).
In 2017, we teamed up with Vijana Amani Pamaja (VAP) who run the VAP Membro programme with girls aged 11-20 years-old to address issues related to sexual and reproductive health. The pioneering programme creates a platform where young women can discuss social issues, receive counselling, make informed choices; and gain empowerment on issues related to their sexuality. The programme’s themed tournaments, held throughout the year, also address issues, such as teenage pregnancies, sexual abuse and self-esteem.
Our photography workshops took place in Buru Buru, Nairobi. The girls were really excited to learn about photography, so much that they would show up almost an hour before the start of each workshop as a result. Along with learning the basic techniques of photography and storytelling, the girls were asked to shoot portraits of strangers to develop a creative eye and gain confidence. Their technique greatly improved with time, and so did their ability to walk up to people around them and engage in conversations.
Student Monica was challenged to shoot a couple of police officers walking out of their police station. She confidently walked up to them telling them what the group were doing and requested permission to shoot them. Although the officers politely declined, they asked the group of girls to present the images they had previously shot, and explain why they decided to take them. It was pleasing to see that the girls’ confidence had developed so quickly in approaching strangers and talking politely about their work.
Ashley, who was probably the youngest participant, was also the most gutsy of them all. She would simply walk up to people and persuade them to pose for her, which people almost never refused, looking at her excitement.