Pregnant in University – A Case for SDG 4

Pregnant in University – A Case for SDG 4

I recently met with Mr. Vivek Sunder, the Managing Director of P&G Kenya. We were having a conversation about the #MyLittleBigThing competition which was full of divergent thinking – Mr. Sunder is a very smart man. One question he pondered is, ‘what is the % of young women who get pregnant in university in Kenya?’ This was in relation to one of the competition winners, Winfred Abuyabo (Buya), who runs the EmpowerHER Initiative. This initiative provides emotional and financial support to pregnant students and student mothers.

Mr. Sunder’s question sent me on a search to find out what really happens to students who get pregnant in universities in Kenya. It’s said that university is the best stage of your life, and maybe it’s because students are generally thought to have more free time and few responsibilities. However it would seem that some things have changed from my university days. While getting pregnant is still an abominable transgression, recent reports from the World Health Organisation Reference Centre point to a worrying trend. The report ranked Kenyan universities according to their HIV prevalence showing University of Nairobi (UoN) as having the highest prevalence at 15 per cent. Students attribute this to relationships with older people (commonly known as ‘sponsors’), who are probably married. It would also seem that students are more concerned about not getting pregnant than they are about HIV. Therefore there is widespread abuse of the ‘morning-after’ pill. However, a number of students still get pregnant while on campus. Almost all universities require such students to defer their studies until after they give birth – this could be for a year or two as the universities are not equipped to accommodate students with their babies.

Perhaps this is why the EmpowerHER initiative won over the #MyLittleBigThing competition judges. Buya came up with a daycare facility at Maseno University that brings together all student mothers who are unable to pay for the childcare services. The mothers take shifts taking care of the children according to their class timetables so that whoever is free takes up the shift. By doing this, they don’t have to drop out of university to take care of their babies. Her initiative meets the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) particularly, SDG 4 which aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. The targets for SDG 4 include: ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university. It also targets to eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations by 2030. According to UN Women, improved education accounts for about 50 per cent of economic growth in Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development countries over the past five decades. About half is due to more women entering higher levels of education.

I still do not know what percentage of students get pregnant in universities in Kenya today. However, I do know that education empowers individuals to increase their well-being and contributes to broader social and economic gains. For education to deliver, it must be inclusive. Active efforts to end gender stereotypes must tackle those that limit schooling. I hope that we will get more university students coming up with projects such as the EmpowerHer initiative in the 2018 edition of the #MyLittleBigThing competition so that more girls and boys, men and women can access education across their lifetimes.