Empowered young women will be the leaders of tomorrow

Young women and mothers attend the dialogue session on reproductive health at Biafra Medical Clinic in Nairobi, Kenya.

Melinda Gates’ visit to East Africa highlights how the provision of family planning services in urban areas supports young women and mothers like Ann Mitu in Kenya

Melinda Gates has long been a passionate advocate for women’s empowerment. In her role as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, she has emphasised the importance of family planning in achieving true gender equality.

During Melinda’s visit to Kenya and Tanzania she had the opportunity to witness first-hand the impact of one of our grantee’s work.

The Tupange project works to provide contraceptives and to educate Kenya’s urban poor about their family planning options. Misconceptions about sexual health and contraceptives are the main obstacle to safe, planned pregnancies in the country.

Our foundation is proud to support Tupange in its efforts to address the dearth of good information about family planning in Kenya. The project has impacted the lives of many young women and girls living in Kenya’s more disadvantaged and urban areas. One story I particularly enjoyed hearing about was that of Ann Mitu, a young mother from Biafra slum in Nairobi. Learning how our partners’ work can change the lives of people for the better is truly inspiring and makes our efforts worthwhile.

Profile: Tupange Project, Kenya

Meet community activist Ann Mitu from Biafra Slum in Kamukunji, Nairobi, Kenya.

When Ann Mitu found out she was pregnant at the age of 19, her life changed forever. Having just finished school, she was suddenly faced with becoming a young mother rather than a college student, as she had envisioned. For many young women in Kenya, one unwanted pregnancy is often followed by the next. It seemed as though her life would go the same way it had gone for so many others before her — that is, until she found the Biafra Lions Clinic, which is part of the Tupange project.

At the time that Ann got pregnant, she had only ever heard of emergency contraceptives and had no idea there were safe, long-term methods of controlling whether she got pregnant. This level of knowledge is not uncommon for young women in Kenya, where a culture of silence often surrounds sex and contraceptives.

Ann explained, “When you go to a chemist, unless you insist on inquiring about the various types of family planning, if you just go there and say ‘give me P2’ [an emergency contraceptive] they’ll just give it, they won’t even want to know ‘why are you using it? Do you know the effects? Do you know there are different types of family planning?’” And according to Ann, the situation is not much better within families. “In Kenya it’s not easy to find parents sitting down with their children talking to them about sexual things.”

Biafra Medical Clinic in Nairobi is supported by Tupange.

The clinic provides consistent high-quality care and information to vulnerable young women, including those who are already pregnant or have recently given birth. Tupange focuses not only on the physical health of the women, but also on their mental health. Providing a robust and inclusive form of health care helps create an environment where Tupange’s message can get through to young women.

“These young mothers, they just want a listening ear. When you listen to them they are very good,” said Nurse Pamela Obuya. Tupange provides personal and group counselling to their patients and in some cases the staff reaches out to their families as well in order to help their patients solve problems in the home.

Nurse Angeline Kingi discusses different contraceptives and options for family planning.

Ann’s experience with Tupange was so positive that she has started a project in conjunction with the clinic called Young Mothers Africa. The project provides support to young mothers through their pregnancy and the infancy of their children and empowers them to maintain their independence throughout their lives. Ann encourages them to go back to school, pursue a career, and most of all not to abandon their aspirations simply because they have become mothers. As she explained, “If you have young mothers who are empowered, we have so many women who will be leaders of tomorrow.”

Ann Mitu and a group of friends in Biafra Slum.