Champions of change: Women leading the way for healthcare access and gender equality

Tessie Musalia. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

Women in Africa have played an integral role in advocating for gender equality and pushing for accessible healthcare.

The women have dedicated their lives to creating positive change within their communities through their local organizations.

 In commemoration of Pan African Women's Day, we turn our spotlight towards these trailblazers breaking and rewriting history.

Tessie Musalia, the Managing trustee of the Mudavadi Memorial Foundation Trust Fund has made significant strides in advancing girls' education and maternal health through the foundation, which was established in 1997.

As the patron of Ushiriki Wema, she has championed advocacy efforts for maternal health, the elderly, and inclusivity for differently-abled individuals in society. Her passion for addressing pressing issues facing Kenyans reflects her commitment to ensuring that every individual leads a dignified life.

"Dignity is the beacon that guides our humanity," Mrs Musalia passionately asserts.

Tessie’s commitment to her mission is evidenced by her collaboration with the private sector, goodwill individuals, donors, and organisations, all working together to positively impact the lives of countless Kenyans. Through these partnerships, she ensures that her vision for a more dignified society becomes a tangible reality.

Marking another milestone in the fight for women's health and gender equality is Nazi Mwambura Kivutha, Shina Foundation Chairperson. Her efforts have seen Family Planning being factored into the budget allocation in the Makueni County government.

“Makueni County now stands as a beacon of pride, where our unwavering SMART advocacy yielded an extraordinary feat - securing budgetary allocation for Family planning, alongside comprehensive reproductive health and youth support,” her words rang out confidently.

In the Financial year 2016/2017, the county allocated Sh20 Million, and in the Financial Year 2021/22 Sh16,289,910 was allocated.

Christine Mvurya, through her Fanikisha Foundation, has been relentless in her pursuit to reduce early and unintended pregnancies among adolescents and young people and strengthen knowledge and practice of Menstrual Hygiene Management for girls and women in Kwale County.

Christine Mvurya. [Courtesy]

"Through formidable partnerships with Kwale County Health Department and invaluable support from Jhpiego AFP, Fanikisha has ignited a fire of high-level advocacy and engagement. We confronted duty bearers head-on, from county government leadership to revered religious and local figures, compelling them to recognize family planning as a pivotal developmental cause," she said.

 In 2019, Fanikisha spearheaded the formation of the Kwale County Multisectoral Taskforce, chaired by the County Commissioner, bringing together key government ministries, departments, and stakeholders to lead the implementation of the county action plan on the mitigation of teenage pregnancies.

Kwale’s teenage pregnancy has since reduced to 14.8 per cent from 24 per cent in the year 2022.

Sarah Tunai, the Patron and Chairperson of Olalmalang Women's Initiative (Ollwi C.B.O), has been a driving force in reshaping policies and attitudes surrounding women's health in Narok County. Through her organization, she has been at the forefront of ensuring a reduction in the rate of teenage pregnancies in Narok County.

“I took up the mantle and spearheaded the creation of a dynamic multisector working group aimed at confronting this challenge head-on, alongside the collective efforts of other stakeholders. Today, I stand proud to witness the remarkable transformation we've achieved, as teenage pregnancy rates in Narok have declined from 40 per cent in 2014 to an inspiring 28 per cent as per the KDHS 2022 report,” she stated.

Despite prevalent retrogressive cultural practices and high levels of illiteracy in the community, Sarah's tireless efforts have enabled countless women in the remote county to make informed decisions about their bodies and empowered them to take charge of their reproductive health.

Fardosa Osman, the Fountain of Hope Executive Director and former First Lady of Garissa County on her part is passionate about championing positive health, education, and community resilience outcomes for hard-to-reach and marginalized communities and giving voice to vulnerable populations.

"Born and bred in Garissa County, I experienced first-hand the challenges of growing up in a marginalized, hard-to-reach community where women are most vulnerable and have no voice, and I decided I need to do something, that's why I started the foundation," she said.

Fardosa is a recognized nutrition and child spacing champion, a literacy and numeracy ambassador, and an advocate for women's empowerment and gender equity.  

Priscila Oparanya, a passionate advocate for healthcare access, has dedicated her life to ensuring that underserved communities have equal access to quality care.

Priscilla Oparanya shares a moment with Hirumbi Primary School pupils, Kakamega. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

As the Director of Touch a Life Foundation, Priscilla and her team have successfully identified gender Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (ASRH) champions, developed their terms of reference, and conducted sensitisation sessions on teenage pregnancies. As a result, the rate of teenage pregnancies in Kakamega County has decreased significantly, from 23.6 per cent to 15 per cent.

“Through unyielding determination, we forged a remarkable bond, signing an MOU that unlocked the power of pro-bono lawyers, now fiercely defending the innocent,” said Priscila

Having recognised the significance of exclusive breastfeeding, Touch a Life advocated for the procurement of breastfeeding corner equipment for Malava, Likuyani, Matungu, and Kakamega Level 5 referral hospitals. This initiative helped reduce absenteeism among health workers and promoted exclusive breastfeeding for six months, ensuring the health and well-being of infants.

"Celebrating their achievements, we must grasp the might of advocacy and back local women-led organisations. Together, we forge a world where healthcare is universal, and gender equality thrives for generations to come,” said Dr Stephen Mutwiwa, Jhpiego Country Director.