The Effects Of Different Social Institutions On SRHP In Kenya

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The conversation on achieving gender equality has been tabled throughout history with evidence dating back to the Victorian Era (Era, 2019). Deliberate efforts to achieve gender equality can be dated back to the 18th century with the rise of the feminist activities and ideologies which were on focused on political power (Dorey-Stein, 2016). It has become a more prominent conversation after its inclusion in the sustainable development goals set by the United Nations (UNDP, 2019). As part of the SDG acquiring gender equality is a priority for many entities but there still seems to be slow development in this area with evident issues the predominance of domestic violence, the significant gender pay gap in employment, and structural gender discrimination societies. Achieving gender equality requires states to secure sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) for all individuals (IPPF,2015). At the same time, goals within SRHR are instrumental in achieving other Sustainable Development Goals such as education and healthcare (UNDP, 2019). This research requires an understanding hypothesis that sexual and reproductive health rights are directly affected by decisions from multiple social institutions. The foundation of this hypothesis is expressed through the theory of intersectionality.

The intersectionality theory is derived from the imagery of a road intersection. This is a point in which two or more roads/streets meet and in some situations, this can be a point which a road and a railway meet. In the hypothetical situation that a person is standing at an intersection, the person is in danger of traffic from all of the roads. Intersectionality is the theory that an overlap of various social identities is a contributing factor to the life experiences of an individual including systematic oppression and discrimination (Anon, 2019). This theory seeks to explain the complexity of individual experiences by inferring to multiple identities such as race, sex, gender, political opinion, religion, class, physical ability, and age. The core premise of intersectionality is that people possess multiple and layered identities which may converge and shape an individual’s experiences, realities, and consequently their perspectives (Intergroup Resources.com, 2019).

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In its modern use, intersectionality was coined in 1989, by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American civil rights advocate, and a legal scholar. She uses the theory in a paper “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics” which she wrote for the University of Chicago Legal Forum. The paper is a critique into how anti-discrimination theories have failed African-American women by failing to put into account the fact that they face different types of discrimination because of their overlapping identities (Stamper, 2018). The intersectionality theory is applicable in explaining Sojourner Truth’s famous Speech “Ain’t I a woman?” (Podell, 2017) which she delivered at the 1851 Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio. In this speech, she explains the fact that she had different needs from white women based on her experiences since she was not only a woman but a black person too. The intersectionality theory is a breakthrough as it gave a name to an issue that has been troubling the feminist activities for decades. It has since then been used in feminist forums with one of its main debuts happening at the Women’s March 2017. Women in the United States specifically black women were dissatisfied with the movement’s approach to advocacy which seemed to be focused on the need of white, middle-class women without considering the needs of women from different demographics and social classes (Brewer and Dundes, 2018). In essence, intersectionality is a framework from which we can understand that different identities of an individual or a community may result in a complex combination of inequalities and privilege (Price, 2017).

Over the years, intersectionality theory has found strength since some of the ideas proposed in it are supported by other theories. Ludwig Von Bertalanffy’s General Systems Theory (GTS) (Bertalanffy, 2013) proposes that everything can be viewed as a netting of connections in different elements which is an idea that is also within intersectionality (Environment-ecology.com, n.d.). Georg Cantor and Richard Dedekind share some similar sentiments as those in intersectionality with the Set Theory initiated in the 1870s (Blitzer, 2015). Although it is a mathematical theory it seeks to show the consequence of objects that exist within an intersection and the fact that handling such objects requires a different type of evaluation.

It is in this capacity, as a theory in feminism, intersectionality is relevant in understanding sexual and reproductive health rights SRHR and how different social institutions affect the acquisition. Sexual and reproductive health rights are a part of human rights that are concerned with all matters of sexuality and reproduction. The World Association for Sexual health reports that sexuality is a crucial aspect of humanity. Among the things comprised of sexuality are matters related to reproduction, sex, gender identities, sexual orientation, intimacy, gender roles, pleasure, and eroticism (Declaration of sexual rights, 2014). In the report, the association also acknowledges that sexuality is with certainty influenced by social, cultural, legal, historical, religious, spiritual, economic, biological and psychological factors. It is possible for an individual’s sexual life to affected by more than one of these factors or even all of the factors at different points through life. Individuals may have significantly less or more access to their sexual and reproductive health and rights as a result of association with more than one influence. Understanding this brings into relevance the intersectionality theory since individual sexual and reproductive experiences are a product of the overlapping of multiple factors.

Cathy McIlwaine in a research paper “Urbanization and gender-based violence: exploring the paradoxes in the global South” (McIlwaine C,2013) brings to light the fact that gender-based violence is experienced differently based on geographical differences. She expresses the fact that women in urban areas are more prone to gender-based violence due to risk factors such as poverty but they are also privileged with opportunities to tackle the violence more effectively than women in rural areas. In order for individuals to experience and express their sexual and reproductive rights adequately, the impact of each of these different influences needs to be considered and solutions should be curated in respect to their circumstances. An example of this is university policies on sexual conduct such as the USIU-Africa Sexual harassment policy. The policy addresses issues that may be unique to university students such as verbal and visual harassment (United States International University -Africa sexual harassment policy, 2017).

A second approach to the use of the intersectionality theory is understanding the complexity of solving concerns within the theme of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). These concerns are affected by different elements of societies with the greatest impact coming from social institutions. A social institution is defined as a system of a relationship or behavioral trend that persistent and functions across an entire society (Verwiebe, n.d.). Among the main institutions are education, religion, governance, economy, and family all of which have an impact on the sexual and reproductive health rights of an individual or a community. Decisions, values, and attitudes held by these social institutions have an impact on the understanding and acquisition of SRHR. This claim is supported by research from the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF,2015) in their analysis of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Among the targets of the health goals in the SDGs is to ensure that by 2030 there is universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning (UNDP, 2019), this goal is in line with agendas in the acquisition of SRHR.

By utilizing the intersectionality theory, it is possible to maximize the impact of efforts to achieve sexual and reproductive health liberation for every individual.At the same time, the use of this theory is vital in understanding problematic areas and designing solutions that are tailored to deal with the specific needs of an institution. An example of this would be recognizing that the economy of a given state is not able to support the financial implication required to provide high-quality reproductive health care at low prices and therefore using the government to make external partnerships to secure aid that would improve the quality of reproductive healthcare.

Despite the fact that intersectionality as theory is fairly new within the academic space, its relevance to solving social issues is clear. The theory has been used within black feminism (Mason, n.d.) and is applicable in understanding and solving a number of social issues especially those linked with inequalities such as gender issues away. This research seeks to use intersectionality to understand the complex nature of solving issues within gender equality in Kenya and specifically sexual and reproductive health rights. Using the intersectionality approach the study shall give an in-depth critique of how different social institutions affect SRHR in Kenya focusing on religion, governance, education, family, and economy. The study seeks to uncover insights that would be relevant in finding relevant and applicable solutions that will ensure that Kenyans have sexual and reproductive health liberation.

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