Adolescent girls’ and women’s right to access voluntary, affordable, available, high quality and effective modern contraceptive services and information of their choice is internationally recognized as a fundamental human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that women and adolescent girls have the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the right to decide the number and spacing of children, the right to privacy, the right to information, and the right to available, acceptable, and good quality contraceptive information and services free from coercion.
The Programme of Action from the International Conference on Population and Development also recognizes contraceptive information and services as essential to ensuring reproductive health and rights are met. Additionally, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has indicated that States parties should provide adolescents with access to sexual and reproductive health information, including on family planning and contraceptives, the dangers of early pregnancy, the prevention of HIV/AIDS and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.
For millions of women and girls in developing countries, the right to access safe and modern contraceptive/family planning services is far from being achieved. The unmet need for safe and effective contraceptive services in developing countries is staggering. According to UNFPA, roughly 215 million women in developing countries rely on traditional methods of family planning only, which have a high failure rate. At least one in four women seeking to avoid pregnancy is not using an effective contraceptive method and women with unmet need for modern contraceptives account for 82 per cent of unintended pregnancies.
In Kenya Slightly more than half of the currently married women (58%) are currently using some method of contraception while 65% of sexually active unmarried women are currently using some method of contraception. A higher percentage of urban women (62%) use some method of contraception, compared with their rural counterparts (56%). Contraceptive prevalence increases dramatically with education. 18 percent of currently married women have an unmet need for family planning. At present, the total potential demand for family planning among currently married women is 76%. Sexually active unmarried women reported a higher demand for family planning and a higher unmet need than currently married women. The total demand is 92%, while the level of unmet need is 27%. (KDHS 2014).
Lack of access to modern contraceptive information and services means that women and adolescents girls are often unable to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections or to control their fertility and reproduction. Both of these situations have negative consequences for women’s and adolescents girls’ health and lives. According to UNFPA, globally over 30 million people are living with HIV and 340 million new infection of curable STIs occur annually. Of the 80 million women who experience unintended pregnancy annually, 45 million do have an abortion. In countries where abortion is highly restricted, women often resort to quacks and self-induced abortions which are usually unsafe and pose a serious risk to their health and lives. Complications from unsafe abortions are a leading cause of maternal morbidity, and approximately 68,000 women die from unsafe abortions each year.
Addressing the unmet need for contraceptive information and services would result in roughly 22 million fewer unplanned births, 25 million fewer induced abortions, and 150,000 fewer maternal deaths each year. Moreover ensuring that women have access to contraceptive information and services will empower women and couples to determine whether and when to have children, enable women to complete their education, increase women’s autonomy within their households and boost their earning power thereby improving the economic security and well-being of women and their families.
I therefore call upon the government of Kenya to take affirmative steps to ensure women’s and girls’ access, in both law and practice, to the full range of contraceptive methods by removing legal, financial, informational, and other barriers that prevent women from accessing contraceptives. Similarly, the government of Kenya should refrain from restricting women’s ability to make free and informed choices, for example by strictly regulating or prohibiting safe abortion. They should also ensure the elimination of all coercive practices relating to contraceptive information and services.