Since arriving in Kisumu last Sunday, I’ve met some amazing staff at the Kisumu Africa Alliance Office. They’ve been incredibly kind to me, insisting that I “take tea” with them, introducing me to their delicious pilau rice and teaching me some very helpful Kiswahili phrases, like habari za asubuhi (good morning) and habari yako (how are you).
On Monday, a younger staff member around my same age invited me to visit her friend who had just given birth. I didn’t want to intrude on the visit, but she insisted that she wanted me to come along. Just three days old, her friend’s baby girl was so sweet, with chubby little cheeks tucked under a little hat with a baby giraffe on the front, and I had fun entertaining her two-year-old brother as the adults chatted.
On the way back from the visit, I thanked my new co-worker for inviting me along, and we got to talking about how precious the baby is and how we both want to be mothers one day. We also laughed about how we also treasure our sleep and freedom, and how drastically motherhood would impact those things. Then she said, “It’s also that pregnancy is dangerous here you know? Even at the hospitals, sometimes they can’t save you. Many women die.” Her words made my chest ache and were a testament to the perverse amount of privilege I carry. This talented woman, formally educated, well-traveled and doing quite well by Kenyan economic standards, had to factor-in to her decisions about childbearing a maternal mortality rate 13 times that of the U.S.
This is why I am proud, every day, of the work my Ipas colleagues do to reduce maternal mortality and advocate for women’s dignity no matter her reproductive choices. That’s part of what reproductive justice is about after all- freedom and dignity when exercising one’s reproductive rights. The Sistersong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, a U.S.-based network of individuals and organizations that works to improve institutional policies and systems that impact the reproductive lives of marginalized communities, provides a more complete definition:
“Reproductive Justice is the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”
I believe we can and must work diligently to demand, defend and uplift reproductive justice, within our own communities and as allies to the communities of all women and their families. Don’t you?