Condoms. While many say they were popularised by the SSL International, the former owners of the Durex brand, little is said about who has been trying to make them unpopular in Kenya where national conversations in which sex is mentioned always end flaccidly.
Matters sexuality are treated as taboo in Kenya as in many other places, but ironically, they add thrust to discussions about sexual and reproductive health and rights and sex education, issues that need probity for better quality of life.
For long, Kenya’s religious leaders have been hiding behind morality to reduce the value of life by opposing well-intentioned initiatives meant to impart reproductive health education and empower women and girls — actually, family units. For two weeks, they have been going at Reproductive Healthcare Bill 2020 hammer and tongs and denouncing it as an abhorrent abortion Bill. They know it isn’t but just have to denigrate it because they have to oppose everything on sexuality.
They have been consistent in reducing public discourse on reproductive health to one word, abortion, preceded by Bacchanalian binges, an outbreak of orgies and a pandemonium of unwanted or unplanned pregnancies should sex education be provided in schools.
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They paint a grim picture of a future where streets are littered with foetuses and oppose all proposals without giving alternatives, yet the morality they harp about keeps getting eroded — at times by themselves — while women and girls suffer for lack of knowledge. Nay. Women and girls are denied access to lawful and appropriate information that can help them understand changes in their bodies, control their sexuality and lead better lives.
By opposing every sex education programme proposed by professionals without offering alternatives, they perpetuate the very same societal rot that they want to forestall. They were against the comprehensive life skills and sexuality education programme, the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy or the first Adolescent and Reproductive Health and Development Policy of 2003.
Succinctly, they do not want reproductive health education given in schools or homes, but they do not scientifically address reproductive health matters in places of worship.
They have waved the morality flag for generations, and in 1995, they joined robes to oppose the introduction of family life education in schools and led adherents in burning sex education literature, contraceptive devices and condoms at, ironically, Uhuru Park in Nairobi. In 1994, they opposed the legalisation of abortion, under any circumstances, and contraceptives as advocated by 1994 United Nations Population Development Conference in Cairo.
People, in 1995, when Kenya was battling HIV and Aids infections and recording highest prevalence rates, they denounced condoms, the latex sheaths much loved for their durability, reliability and excellence (Fun fact: that is how brand name Durex was born) in preventing infections. That is akin to telling people not to observe social distancing and hygiene measures or burning masks in this period of coronavirus.
It can be argued that Kenya’s religious leaders do not mean well for Kenyans, and their antics have exacerbated the spread of health conditions which are preventable through the provision of sex education. In September 1996, their vehement aversion and antipathy towards (safe) sex education manifested itself in Nairobi in another bonfire of condoms and HIV and Aids-awareness material, under their theme of ‘Choose chastity: 100 per cent safe.’
Led by the head cleric of mainstream faith, adherents marched while carrying placards proclaiming: Sex education is not the cure for Aids, abstinence and fidelity are; It is immoral to teach family life education in schools; More contraceptives, more abortions and Trust condoms, trust death.
Some of the materials they burned were aimed at primary school children, the youth and adult couples. They had been created by non-State bodies working with experts after years of educational workshops, research, drafting and testing for appropriate language and messaging.
All that went up in smoke and the 90s youth were denied education on sexual and reproductive health and it is easy to understand why we are where we are now. Clerics are hell-bent on creating another generation that does not respect other people’s bodies or choices.
They have been perfecting this tactic of intimidation and in 2013, they wailed over a State-sponsored TV advert promoting condom use, saying it encouraged infidelity, promoted extra-marital affairs and propagated immorality. Eventually, a whole government withdrew it. Their cri de cœur and mantra has been the preservation of morality, but considering the reproductive health-related problems Kenyans face today, their morality lessons are not working.
Kenya’s clergy have never been honest in their opposition to the provision of reproductive health education and God-fearing and tax-paying Kenyans should inform them that their thought processes are not for the modern world of medical and technological advances and health and social challenges. Just a sec! Why do we listen to these organisations which do not pay taxes?
- The writer is an editor with The Standard.