Why sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) education matters for teenage girls
Sexual and reproductive health and rights or SRHR is the concept of human rights applied to sexuality and reproduction. It’s therefore important for young girls and women to receive SRHR education while they are in their foundational ages. This is so that they are not only aware of what their rights are, but that they are in a better position to manage their own lives by being aware of those things that in the longer term would affect their sexual and reproductive health as well as their overall well being. In our African context however, SRHR remains a sensitive topic, with many parents and leaders being of the opinion that SRHR would contribute to negative social behavior among teens.
At our August 2015 Leadership Academy, we explored SRHR with our Dadas, focusing on busting myths and empowering Dadas with the truer understanding of SRHR. This is an opportune time to address these issues, as our Dadas are adolescents and experiencing many changes in their bodies. Additionally looking at our Kenyan and African context, we find that instances of early marriage and are still rampant making the sharing of relevant and true information essential at this age. Some of the main topics covered were those around sexuality, gender based violence, early marriage and childbearing.
In collaboration with our colleagues from WAYAN Kenya we delved deeper into the following issues:
It’s increasingly important for girls and young women to have knowledge about their bodies and their health. This is especially so as they begin to transition to adulthood and experience changes in their lives. Knowledge about how to take care of oneself and who to approach when in need of medical attention is even more critical in a world where false information is frequently shared as truth. At the academy, we had candid and helpful discussions with our Dadas where we explored myths and realities around sexual health.
In particular we explored some of our socio cultural beliefs and practices that are deemed right and necessary by some of our communities, and yet have a great negative impact on the well being of the girl child. A good example is the cultural practice of female genital mutilation in some cultures that is viewed as a necessary right of passage. We also explored the concepts of coercion and consent, with some of our girls highlighting the fact that in some of their communities young girls and women found themselves being coerced into sex, with the promise of accessing financial resources to access education or even meet their basic needs. This is particularly rampant in the marginalized and low-income areas where the pressure of poverty blurs the lines of responsibility. We shared information and resources that our Dadas could tap into and also share with their friends at school and in their home communities.
Gender-Based Discrimination and Violence:
We also looked at Gender Based Violence to explore what it is, why it happens and how to take action against it. We explored the cyclic nature of GBV, in that if a young girl or woman grows up in an abusive relationship, they would most likely find themselves in a similar situation. Once again the issue of culture arose, where we busted the myth that in some cultures the line between disciplining a child and physically abusing them is blurred. We looked at what definitions and tell tale signs of abuse so that our girls could have a clear distinction of what is healthy and what is not. We also shared practical steps that Dadas can take and share with their sisters to help them build healthy support systems cope with life's challenges.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights education may be a sensitive topic of discussion, but there is an urgent need to move away from the shyness we have around it and treat it as a means of empowering our girls.