2022 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey tells us more than sex

Social media platforms exploded with this week’s news that Kenyan men have, on average 3 times more sexual partners than women. As netizens benchmark their personal experiences against the latest Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2022, it is worth keeping in mind Oscar Wilde’s famous observation everything about sex is not about sex; it is about power.

While online discussion and headlines like “Embu new pills paradise, Migori men kings of rubber” aroused citizens’ attention, new research exposes the state of reproductive health rights, freedom from violence and gender-based violence. It suggests where citizens and state officers must now focus.

From a health rights and gender equality perspective, the new survey contains six core findings. Annually, Kenyan men have four times more sexual partners than women. One in three girls over the age of 15 years and women has experienced physical violence. Girls are six times more likely than boys to experience sexual violence. However, boys are far less likely to report or seek help or justice. Tragically, sexual violence increases as both girls and boys grow older. Rather than being a haven from public violence, marriage is twice as risky.

Predictably, the survey warns us again that the teenage pregnancy trends remain too high, especially in Samburu, West Pokot, Masabit and Narok. The findings validate Bungoma activist Sarah Munoko’s efforts that gender-based violence trends in Bungoma are skyrocketing. They reinforce calls for increased programming to stop intimate partner violence seen recently in the cases of both Phyliss Jepleting and Edwin Chiloba. Teacher associations, the Teachers Service Commission, and Education Ministry also need to urgently address the KNBSS finding that teachers are the next major category of perpetrators apart from spouses and partners.

Thankfully, the prevalence of female genital mutilation has halved to 15 per cent over the last two decades. Incoming Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Board Chairperson and former UDA party leader Surum Korema must maintain the progress under her predecessor Agnes Pareiyo and address the increasing incidences of sewing women’s clitoris completely shut.

Realizing Article 43 of the Constitution and the right to health, including reproductive health care, also rests on declaring a breakthrough in health insurance uptake and quality. Only one in four of our family members has some form of health insurance. For those of us in poorer rural areas, those without insurance drops by half to one in eight. Can NHIF, health rights organizations and health facilities jointly declare 2023 the year of health insurance public sensitization?

At least 5 per cent of Kenyans, many of them women, are systematically blocked from a full life by organizational policies or practices that lock out people with disabilities, physical barriers in the way our streets, buildings or schools are designed or our discriminatory attitudes and prejudice.

The choices Kenyans make to have sex or not, children or not, work or not and own houses or not are not free choices. Behind the report lie hidden drivers for the choices we make. They include privilege, poverty, and power.

If we want to drive down tuberculosis, mental disorders, and kidney-related illnesses among Kenyan men, we will have to address poverty, toxic masculinity, patriarchal privilege, dietary and lifestyle choices. Reducing arthritis, hypertension and HIVAIDS for women will require us to reduce the work burden, eliminate violence and expand their inherent rights to choose and reject their sexual partners, including their boyfriends and husbands.

Buried today by her family, 78-year-old Catherine Akidi Lore passed away on 15 January. She and her husband, William Lore, are legends in the public health world, serving KEMRI, AMREF, Kenya Medical Women’s Association, Kenyatta National Hospital, and several international bodies. Her personal contribution to the field of gynaecology and obstetrics deserves wider recognition.

Daktari Catherine would be proud of the progress she and thousands of health workers, and gender equality advocates have caused and are now captured in this 2022 KNBS report. We release her to the ancestors and thank her for her service.

First published in The Standard on 21st January 2023. Kindly reproduced here with permission from The Standard.

Irũngũ Houghton is Amnesty International Kenya’s Executive Director and writes in his personal capacity. Email: [email protected]