She was the closest friend I ever had while growing up. With a fairer skin, almond eyes and a warm smile, Jane (not real name) was a beauty to behold. We did everything together. But all this came to an end when my parents sent me to boarding school. Jane wasn’t fortunate enough to go to the above-average schools I went to but she received a basic education.
On day, I came home to a shocking story that my best friend had conceived but didn’t go through with the pregnancy. She had carried out an unsafe abortion that almost cost her life. I remember feeling sorry about her experience but never disappointed in her.
This incident and a pregnancy that followed a year later greatly affected our friendship to the extent that Jane hid from me every time I came home for the holidays. She had her first baby at sixteen, and this was the end of her education journey. She is now a mother to four children. For a long time after losing my friend to early motherhood, I started getting curious about sexual and reproductive related issues.
It created in me a deep desire to learn more about why girls like my friend “chose” to get pregnant, especially at an early age. I thought it was just a choice- It is actually supposed to be but it is rarely the case among young girls. I was very curious about sexual and reproductive health related issues but was shy to ask anyone anything about it. Even among my friends, its taboo to talk about such a topic; it’s just the way we are brought up- to believe that sex is something to be talked about my adults. We had the basic female teacher talks in primary school but these sessions were not elaborate enough.
When I finally achieved independence to join Makerere University in Uganda, the first thing I did was to enroll for a course about community mobilization and sensitization about sexual and reproductive health at Reproductive Health Uganda. To date, I consider it one of the best choices I have ever made in life. Peer education activities exposed me to some of the harsh realities young girls face in society, and this presents a pressing need to educate young people about their sexuality and their bodies. I also learnt some of the causes of teen pregnancies, unsafe abortions and school drop outs. During one of the open sessions in peer education, a lady shared;
“I conceived the first time I attempted to have sex with my boyfriend. I wasn’t ready for this baby,” She was disappointed in herself for not seeking knowledge about sex education earlier. However, I couldn’t blame her. I blamed her mother.
“Mother always threatened to banish me from home if I ever indulged in sexual relations or even get pregnant while still in school.” She added. Her mother had thrown her out of the house but she couldn’t stop blaming herself for ruining the only chance she had of getting an education. The two stories above represent thousands of such many cases of young girls who have lost bright futures to early pregnancies, school drop outs and in even worse cases contracting HIV/AIDS and death.
My country Uganda, the African continent and the world in general needs to change their perceptions about education of the young generation about sex education, their bodies and reproductive health related issues, especially girls. The world we are growing up in today is very different from that of our parents’ and our grandparents, who set these taboos society is bent to. Compared to 20 years ago, young people are entering adolescence earlier and healthier, and they are likely to spend more time in school and enter the workforce later. As a result, marriage and childbearing now generally occur later than they did in the past, especially for women. And, inevitably, postponing marriage has meant that sex before marriage has become more common.
According to a Guttmacher Institute report entitled: Protecting the Next Generation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Learning from Adolescents to Prevent HIV and Unintended Pregnancy; adolescent females in Sub-Saharan Africa tend to have sex at an earlier age than their male counterparts, and thus are at particular risk fosr HIV, unwanted pregnancy and other adverse outcomes. In a survey conducted in Burkina Faso, Malawi, Ghana, and Uganda, almost 60% of females have had sex by age 18, compared with about 40–45% of males.
A recent discovery in Uganda reveals that unsafe abortions as the second leading cause of maternal deaths in the country. The reality is that society needs to focus on empowering the young generation, especially girls with education, trainings and all comprehensive knowledge about sexual, reproductive health and family planning for young mothers.
To add my voices to and for the young girls and youth out there that cannot make the right choices for their bodies, I have joined the global advocacy movement. I believe that my voice, with voices of us all combined can make case for the young girls who have fallen victims of early motherhood, unsafe abortions and even forced sexual relations because they couldn’t defend themselves.
I started out as a fun student, and later a peer educator. There is no fun and inspiring thing I have ever done than telling fellow young people about their bodies and how they should protect themselves from unsafe sex, unplanned pregnancies and general reproductive health. There was something about someone walking to me and asking for more condoms (we used to distribute female and male condoms during peer education sessions) or even just calling to clarify about a certain contraceptive they weren’t sure about. It’s fulfilling.
It’s not too late for you to join the movement. Take a stand this International Women’s Day. Look back at what denial of access to basic sexual and reproductive health education has caused to human development. If you join us now, to commit and ensure that every girl wherever they are gets appropriate, accurate and comprehensive information on sexuality on time, we can still make sure that the young generation maximizes their potential to achieve their dreams without limits. It’s not too late for you to join.
You can sign a pledge of a campaign like this one, join movements making case for the rights of girls from obstacles like early child marriages and school drop outs like this one or join coalitions working together on a common agenda for adolescents and young people to acquire comprehensive sex education and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services that will strengthen our national, regional and international responses to early and unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and school drops for the brighter future of young women.
Happy International Women’s Day!
This post originally was originally posted here