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Female advocates on improving women’s health in Kenya

On this International Women's Day, we spotlight two passionate female advocates who are committed to improving health outcomes for women and girls.

8 March 2023

This International Women’s Day, Options’ Advocacy Communications Advisor, Meshack Acholla (Evidence for Action (E4A) -MamaYe) speaks to two passionate female advocates who are committed to improving health outcomes for women and girls in Kenya.

Rahma Issa is a member of E4A-MamaYe’s supported Bungoma RMNCAH Network Kenya and Dr. Violet Mbiti is the Founder of the Violet Mbiti Foundation, a community-based organisation that operates in Kenya’s Nairobi and Machakos counties. These two women took part in E4A-MamaYe’s training in how to use evidence to undertake health budget advocacy.

Rahma Issa is an advocate based in Bungoma, a Kenyan county with  a high rate of teenage pregnancies, and maternal deathsRahma spent most of her teenage years promoting sexual reproductive heath and rights for adolscents and youth.

She is proud to be involved in advocacy that saw Bungoma county receive its first family planning budget line – a key commitment for Kenya’s FP2030 performance. More recently, she has been leading the implementation of a successful primary health care project that aims to improve women, girls and babies’ health in Bungoma. But her journey to become the successful advocate that she is today hasn’t always been easy as she will share with us.

Dr. Violet Mbiti is a vocal and powerful health budget advocate based in Nairobi, Kenya. In 2018, she was among the advocates who presented a memo asking the Nairobi City County Government to prioritise family planning (FP) commodities as part of the E4A-Mamaye #JazaShelves (‘Fill Up The Shelves) campaign to improve FP commodity security. Dr. Mbiti shares insights into how she used the skills and knowledge she gained through E4A-MamaYe’s training to educate others on health budget advocacy.

Tell us why you are passionate about advocating for issues affecting women and girls? What is the one thing that drives you and what is the one change you’d like to see in your community?

Rahma: “Growing up I never knew women would be part of any decision-making space. What I knew is that a woman’s role is to do house chores. On occasions where women needed to seek medical care, they had to get permission from a man.

I then knew for this situation to change, it had to start with me. For a woman to do all that my community expects from her, she requires to be healthy and take care of herself and wellbeing.”

Dr.Mbiti: “As a young girl, I would see girls at my village pregnant and eventually being married off. It meant that many of them could not continue with their education. This situation was not the same for the boys. I then knew I must be active to change the narrative for many other girls.”

When you look back at your life, how did the knowledge and skills you gained help you to effectively advocate for women and girls’ health? Do you feel more empowered today?

Rahma: “There was this moment during the 2017 elections in Kenya when the young people in my community formed a group to promote peace messages. I was among only three women in the whole group. We did a successful community sensitisation exercise and I was so happy with the role I played. This was then my defining moment towards addressing social issues, including health.

Soon after, our group was invited by E4A-MamaYe for a training in effective evidence-based advocacy on health. Luckily, I was among the three in my group who went. It was that training that opened a new chapter in life. I started to know how to develop evidence briefs, scorecards, memos and speak to the media.”

At one moment during public participation on the county budget, a government official was restricting our access because we were not among those invited. I stood firm and let him know this was a public process, I was there to present issues of hundreds of people in my community and the law doesn’t restrict, something I knew from the E4A-MamaYe training. He later agreed to let us participate and we presented a memo.”

Dr. Mbiti: “When I got involved in active community work, I founded my own organisation, and I was linked to an opportunity to be among other local grassroots civil society organisations to be capacity built on advocacy by E4A-MamaYe.

Knowledge on advocacy made me appreciate the power of leaders to change the situation of girls. I actively engaged elected leaders, later I realised that when we are many and in an organised voice we shall be more powerful. Again, E4A-MamaYe supported us to form the MNH Coalition of Kenya and I am still one of the leaders.

I took to social media, holding live sessions to educate others on health budget advocacy from the knowledge I had received. Through those sessions, I started to get invites to facilitate trainings and they haven’t stopped since. The health budget toolbox by E4A-MamaYe has been very resourceful.”

What are you doing in your own unique way to ensure we have an equal world for both men and women?

Rahma: “Just from my example on the public participation, those are forums which are mostly male dominated. These are important forums to influence how resources are allocated and priorities for issues of women and girls. I want more women and girls to come for public participation and we advocate together.”

Why do you think women’s voices are important when looking at issues of reproductive maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health (RMNCAH) in your country? What is your advice you have for other women who are interested in promoting better health for women?

Dr. Mbiti: “No one can articulate women’s issues better than women themselves. I think it is important that women get involved and opportunities are created for them during policy making processes like the budgets. This is where they can highlight priority RMNCAH issues.”

Focus areas
Maternal and Newborn Health

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