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Family planning crusader empowers girls in slums

As a young girl Nelly Lukale saw the difficulties women went through to access reproductive health services. This motivated her to start an organisation to fill the gap

Harriet James @PeopleDailyKe

Family planning is essential to gender equality as well as women empowerment. It is also considered a human right for women, enabling them to access family planning, as a critical component in eliminating poverty. Despite this, most women in developing nations still face a major challenge as far as employing safe and effective family planning methods is concerned.

This is because they lack access to essential facts and harbour cultural beliefs that prohibit family planning as most cultures consider children a blessing. Nelly Lukale grew up in a community where issues surrounding reproductive health and rights were neglected, ignored and in most instances considered a woman’s problem.

Seeing that her mother was a community health worker and family planning community distributor, her home was always full of women desiring to have control in giving birth but could not because of taboos surrounding them.

Being in a patriarchal society, the women had to get permission from their conservative husbands to use family planning, but were denied as their spouses were either ignorant or held their traditions dearly.

This moved Nelly’s heart at a tender age and she began to assist the women secretly when they came to their home by referring them to the health centre for the services, then keeping their clinic cards at her home in case they were found by their spouses.

Girls were not left behind as well. She discovered that most of them did not have any information on menstruation, what to expect when that time finally came, what to do and how to take care of themselves. This is because talking about menstruation and sex was taboo, especially for unmarried people and for parents to their children. Many girls, including her, missed school because they could not afford sanitary towels.

“I got my first pack of sanitary towels when I was joining Form Four. Before that, I improvised rags,”she says. These issues made Nelly work hard and commit not to allow any girl to go through what she experienced. In the year 2011, she gathered 10 girls every month in Kiambiu slums to give them information about reproductive health, menstruation health management and life skills.

Consequently, she birthed an organisation dubbed, Hope in Action Network, which was registered in 2013 as a community based organisation. “I would mobilise friends to buy sanitary towels, which I gave to the girls to make sure they don’t miss school,” she says.

Their projects and initiatives are in different villages faced with poor sanitation, poor sewerage system, over population, unemployment, insecurity, and drug abuse. Additionally, they have girls clubs in few informal schools in Makadara constituency.

As she puts it, she opted for the constituency as the women and young girls face inequalities in reproductive health services due to inequalities. Their programmes have expanded and so far they have been able to have outreach activities in Migori, Taita Taveta and Nairobi counties. Most of their activities include entertainment where they disseminate reproductive health and rights and menstruation health management information through drama, poems, songs, teambuilding activities and talent shows.

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