Type to search

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Navigating Sexual Reproductive Health as a Young Person

A Personal Journey Shared by KM Champion Mercy Kipng'eny

Knowledge SUCCESS engages people working in family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) as Knowledge Management (KM) Champions to support and bolster the awareness and impact of project activities across East Africa. This spotlight series will focus on these valued KM champions and shed light on their journey to working in FP/RH. In today’s post, we spoke with Mercy Kipng’eny, a program assistant for SHE SOARS project at the Center for Study of Adolescence.

Editor’s note: The term “sexual reproductive health” is used throughout the interview and reflects the interviewee’s own words. In this post, it is synonymous with the term “sexual and reproductive health” which is also used within the FP/RH community.

“Conversations about sexual reproductive health, especially with parents and communities, is something I’ve struggled with. I think there are so many ways we can approach issues, speaking openly with parents on issues of sexual reproductive health.”
– Mercy Kipng’eny

Mercy Kipng'eny
people sitting in a semicircle on a porch. There is a woman speaking to them.
Mercy conducting an intergenerational dialogue on SRH

For many young people, discussions around sexual reproductive health can be uncomfortable and taboo. Lack of access to accurate information and resources can lead to unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and gender-based violence. However, for some, like Mercy Kipng’eny, the journey toward advocating for sexual reproductive health rights started at a young age.

I joined Jaramogi University in Bondo in 2016, at the age of 17. Growing up in a traditional community, conversations around sexual reproductive health were not commonplace. I remember attending an open day at a youth center where they were teaching young people about sex and family planning. It was an eye-opening experience as I had never seen people talk about sex and sexuality so openly. I joined the youth center, and it was there that I learned about sexual reproductive health and the importance of youth empowerment.

“I joined the youth center in 2017. Whenever I would go home, I would look at my peers in my village and they were married off really early…So, that was really something which was motivating for me that we could, the generation of my peers and I, were the first people to actually start another cohort of young people completing their studies, going to university, and advancing their studies, especially for girls in the community, where people really just value marriage for girls and getting cows.”

My experience at the youth center motivated me to continue learning about sexual reproductive health. I was trained as a peer provider and received several trainings on advocacy. After completing my university studies, I worked as a case management officer for young people living with HIV. It was here that I got exposed to the programming world, and my supervisor encouraged me to take up monitoring and evaluation courses.

I later joined Population Services Kenya, where I worked as a young designer/innovation champion for the Adolescent 360 project. This position was a result of a fellowship with Ideo, where I was part of the Billion Girls Co-Lab Fellowship. The fellowship was about designing solutions for sexual and reproductive health for girls in our communities. We went through the entire human-centered design process, developed concepts, conducted research, and continued iterating and developing concepts, which were taken up by some community-based organizations.

Now, I work as a program assistant for SHE SOARS project at the Center for Study of Adolescence, where I continue advocating for adolescent sexual reproductive health and integrating a component of economic empowerment and working with the public sector.

However, navigating conversations about sexual reproductive health, especially with parents and communities, is still something I struggle with. Growing up, I never had such a conversation with my parents, even when I experienced my first menstrual cycle. It was my sisters who told me that it was normal and showed me how to use a pad. No one ever told me that having sex could lead to pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.

A group of young people in a classroom sending in a semicircle facing a wall. The wall has five large posters taped to it with sticky notes pasted throughout the posters. One woman is attaching more sticky notes to the poster on the right hand side.
Human Centered Design Training with the Billion Girl Project
A woman sitting at a table writing on sticky notes.
Mercy doing design research for the Billion Girls Project
A group of young people sitting in a circle with one woman standing up to speak.
Mercy engaging with young people in the community.
A group of young people sitting in a classroom. One woman is standing up and speaking to them.
Mercy training youth on SRH

Conversations about sexual reproductive health can be uncomfortable for many young people, but they are essential. Accurate information and access to resources are critical in preventing unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and gender-based violence. It is essential to provide platforms where young people can ask questions and learn about their sexual reproductive health.

In areas where access to sexual reproductive health resources is limited, interventions like intergenerational dialogues with adolescents and their mothers, and storytelling with parents, can be helpful. These interventions help break down barriers that prevent girls from accessing sexual reproductive health services. For example, girls may lack autonomy over their bodies because their husbands or mothers-in-law control them.

Interventions like these are essential in creating a safe space for young people to learn about sexual reproductive health. It is also critical to advocate for policies that promote sexual reproductive health rights and access to resources. Young people must be empowered to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. Mentorship is another important element in strengthening young people’s agency and confidence to make positive decisions about their sexual and reproductive health

In conclusion, my journey toward advocating for sexual reproductive health started at a young age and has been long and intentional. Along the way, I have built my skills through a lot of training, been exposed to different knowledge sources, and platforms, and made meaningful connections. Through my work, I have learned that conversations about sexual reproductive health are necessary, but they can be uncomfortable.

Collins Otieno

East Africa FP/RH Technical Officer

Meet Collins, a versatile development practitioner with a wealth of experience and expertise in family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) communication, program and grant management, capacity strengthening and technical assistance, social and behavior change, information management, and media/communication outreach. Collins has dedicated his career to working with local, national, and international development NGOs to implement successful FP/RH interventions in East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, & Ethiopia) and West Africa (Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Nigeria). His work has focused on youth development, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health (SRH), community engagement, media campaigns, advocacy communications, social norms, and civic engagement. Previously, Collins worked with Planned Parenthood Global, where he provided FP/RH technical assistance and support to Africa Region country programs. He contributed to the FP2030 Initiative’s High Impact Practices (HIP) program in developing the FP HIP briefs. He also worked with The Youth Agenda and I Choose Life-Africa, where he led various youth campaigns and FP/RH initiatives. In addition to his professional endeavors, Collins is passionate about exploring how digital communication and engagement are shaping and moving FP/RH development in Africa and around the world. He loves the outdoors and is an avid camper and hiker. Collins is also a social media enthusiast and can be found on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and sometimes Twitter.

Irene Alenga

Knowledge Management and Community Engagement Lead, Advocacy Accelerator

Irene is an established social economist with over 13 years’ experience in research, policy analysis, knowledge management, and partnership engagement. As a researcher, she has been involved in the coordination and implementation of over 20 social economic research projects in various disciplines within the Eastern African Region. In her work as a Knowledge Management Consultant, Irene has been involved in health-related studies through work with public health and technology-focused institutions in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Malawi where she has successfully teased out impact stories and increased visibility of project interventions. Her expertise in developing and supporting management processes, lessons learned, and best practices is exemplified in the three-year organizational change management and project closure process of the USAID| DELIVER and Supply Chain Management Systems (SCMS) 10-year project in Tanzania. In the emerging practice of Human Centered Design, Irene has successfully facilitated a positive end to end product experience through conducting user experience studies while implementing the USAID| DREAMS Project amongst adolescent girls and young women (AGYWs) in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Irene is well-versed in resource mobilization and donor management, especially with USAID, DFID, and EU.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap