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Women’s Rights in Africa, Kenya

Ramona Selvarajah

Ramona Selvarajah is a Development Studies major and a Public Health minor. She spent the summer of 2010 in Kenya performing research in support of Amnesty International’s study of maternal mortality, women’s health and women’s rights in Africa.

Ramona performed her main research in Salaama, Kenya. She participated in several medical outreach missions to villages in the area. Prevention of malaria and ringworm, administering immunizations and testing for HIV were important parts of these efforts. She also did fund raising so generic versions of drugs and treatments for diseases could be procured. “Simple things, like sugar, honey and water, are critical for the treatment of diarrhea.”

In her research, Ramona studied the stigma surrounding AIDS. It took about a month of regular meetings at a local church before the women of the area began to open up about their lives. At first they were very unwilling to trust visitors.

They feared their HIV status would become known. Doctor-patient confidentiality is typically not supported there. Most men do not use condoms. Most of women were pregnant.

“The focus of the women is to marry and bear children. They are afraid to say “no” to their husbands regarding sex. For a male, having more than one wife is a “good thing”, implying higher social standing.”

Ramona also visited the slums of Nairobi. The sheer scale of the problems and density of people there was shocking to experience. “Everywhere you go there are piles of trash. There are dumps in the middle of neighborhoods. In one, there is an orphanage nearby. The woman who ran it was attacked, raped and cut up.” “With little or no sanitation in the slums, just going to the bathroom at night is perilous. Women are raped after dark, and a bathroom could be two miles away.”

With almost no computer technology in Kenya, health records are all stored in a library at the government Health Ministry. “There is no way outside of Kenya to know the real health status there.”

While much of her research centered on maternal mortality, Ramona’s work also included comparisons between the health care systems of less developed countries and the United States and fed into a report for presentation at a G8 summit.