My contribution as a researcher is designing and managing rigorous studies that help us to learn what works in improving reproductive health outcomes for girls. The research not only benefits the girls who participate directly, but also many others who will be impacted by the evidence generated and the policies implemented based on these findings. As a member of the task force that drafted the Kenya Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy, I emphasized the use of data to guide priorities that will lead to investments in girls. By using a prevention approach, and working with very young adolescents, we are finding out how those investments should be made and what factors will help girls to delay marriage and childbearing, and become empowered to plan their families in the future.
The personal stories from my experience as a young girl growing up in Kenya sparked my passion for family planning. I watched classmates die due to unsafe abortion, and empathized with girls who had to drop out of school due to pregnancy, or who dropped out due to lack of school fees, only to get an unwanted pregnancy because of the dynamics of the financial relationships they engaged in. I saw mothers facing unintended pregnancies, when they could not feed the children they already had.
I would say, sensitizing communities and policy-makers about the importance of investing in adolescent girls and ensuring they are able to achieve a healthy transition to adulthood. We often get resistance and questions about: a) why we are focusing on girls, and not boys, b) why we are providing girls with reproductive health information at a young age, and c) why we employ a preventive approach rather than providing services. I overcome this by providing facts, and context on girls' realities.
My country's biggest challenge is the continued use of strategies and approaches that are not evidence-based and that have been shown to be ineffective in improving girls' and women's reproductive health. The resistance to change leads to inefficiencies in the use of the limited resources that we have. This challenge can be addressed through encouraging innovation and by engaging stakeholders and presenting them with cost-effectiveness data on the impact achieved for each dollar spent.
I want to generate evidence that changes the way we think about how to address the obstacles faced by adolescent girls in achieving positive outcomes related to reproductive health. I hope this evidence will have a direct influence on policy in the region and that it will encourage donor investment in family planning and in ensuring that girls who are being born today will be capable of achieving their goals related to the timing of marriage, childbearing, and education attainment.