Kenya’s education Cabinet Secretary holds that teenage pregnancies is a crisis in our society. She cites the number of girls who give birth or are pregnant during the national examinations period. If this happens throughout the year, we need to take the issue seriously and equip our girls with the willfulness and killjoy kits in order to live fulfilling lives.
Among the Agikuyu, a teenager is said to have had her “leg broken” if she becomes pregnant. This is a strong metaphor that describes the physical and mobility constraint that comes with pregnancy. It could also signify the shattered dreams of a pregnant girl. Her education is affected as she plays the dual role of mother and student.
Indigenous societies prepared their adolescents through initiation rites and taboos that surrounded sex and sexuality. Our society in transition has lost most of these institutions. The responsibility has been left to peer groups, religious leaders, the media and social media as society continues to bury its heads in the sand.
We have refused to allow the teaching of sex education in our schools. We have also opposed the use of contraceptives and abortion as tools of dealing with unplanned pregnancies. We trust teachers to prepare our children with knowledge that leads to career development but we do not trust them with issues that affect their sex and sexuality.
The teenage pregnancy crisis should make feminists walk with their faces down for they have failed to come up with killjoy kits to help girls navigate their adolescence. Feminists have been concerned with technical fixes and numbers as solutions for female insubordination in Kenya. They have failed to initiate a revolution in the social and cultural environment that disadvantages girls and women. They have failed to address the issue of inequalities between the privileged and the non privileged.
Teenage pregnancy is a class issue. Girls from non-privileged homes are in a catch 22 situation. They do not have resources to procure contraceptives. Their form of entertainment is limited. The only possibility they see in life is being married to someone who is better off than their own family.
Parenting is not easy for non-privileged households in Kenya. Parents are marooned in despair. This makes them unable to visualize future life possibilities. They transfer their hopelessness and helplessness to their children and curtail their dreams. They do not have the resources to meet basic needs or invest in their girls’ dreams.
Our society must address the issue of extreme inequalities which cause trauma to many families in the low social and economic categories. This trauma hinders them from dreaming a life of possibilities and ability to engage in actions that would uplift their welfare. They lose the ability to see the school as a transforming agent for upward mobility.
Teachers are also disadvantaged. Their working and living conditions have left them a disempowered lot. They too need motivation and help. We taunt our teachers when they air their grievances, yet we want them to mould our children. We must endeavour to help them realize their own dreams and support them to live fulfilling lives.
After being a board member of rural primary and secondary schools in Kiambu, I came face to face with the frustrations that teachers face in these places. In one school, teachers could only get accommodation in Limuru Town and travel to Raini Njeke every morning. The journey involved taking a matatu and a boda boda.
The worst was when it rained and they had to carry a pair of shoes and gumboots to help them navigate the mud. The worst was in primary schools. Teachers did not have restrooms or spaces where they can have peace and quiet after enduring all the noisy classes. All of them walked to schools. Transport costs were an added expense from their salaries because their commuter allowance is very low.
For heaven’s sake, let us restore the dignity that our teachers deserve so that they can help the children dream a life of possibilities.
By Dr. Mary Njeri Kinyanjui
Insitute of Development Studies, The University of Nairobi.