Sexual reproductive health is an essential topic to tackle among all walks of life, and keenly to teenagers due to the fact that they are the ones who are mostly exposed to the consequences that result from lack of information about the SRH. An ideal example is found looking at the past generations, where they have suffered greatly from lack of knowledge or information about SRH. There are some underlying causes for this lack of knowledge such as poverty and illiteracy where in our communities we have adopted a habit that turned to be sort of a culture where parents or grown-ups are not comfortable with sharing their experiences to their young ones about almost everything related to sex.
When I decided to write this article, I couldn’t find a personal testimony that could relate in a more bold way to this issue, but I am blessed with two beautiful sisters and a wonderful mother to whom we share experiences about almost everything, so I decided to ask them some few questions regarding the SRH such as: Did mom tell you about sex when you were a teenager? Did she prepare or inform you about the menstrual cycle?
They laughed and told me that she didn’t.
Knowing how our mother is very open to us with so many things, I couldn’t believe how she could forget something so crucial into her daughters’ lives, so I went on and asked her why she didn’t educate them. She was very surprised and told me that she did it, but also, she pointed out that nowadays, young people do not want to listen to the elders’ advice.
“I really have educated them about the SRH.” said my mother explicitly, “I started teaching them on the day they got their first periods; there was no other perfect time than that, but the problem was that they were too shy to listen to me talking about sex and they tried to cut me short.”
She added, “Another big problem is that young people nowadays do not want to listen to the elders, they think that they know much better about everything than the elders, probably because they have access to the internet, something we didn’t possess in our time and maybe the little they learn at school make them think that it’s enough.”
The blame game was a bit confusing but I was very determined to reach the bottom of this issue.
I immediately went back to my sisters for clarifications about the contradictions within both parties’ statements. This time, their feedback painted a more clear picture of what was going on between mom and her daughters.
“Truthfully, the attempt to educate us about SRH happened but it was wrongly done. The fact is that our generation is way more informed than how theirs was and various factors such as the movies we watch, internet and what we learn at school proves that we are one step ahead compared to where they were at our age. But, even though we thought that we were more informed, the information we had was so vague and all she had to do was to have an open conversation with us, maybe a Q&A session so that we get all the answers we needed to align what we knew in the right direction. In spite of that, she only gave us the basics by telling us what we already knew and it didn’t answer our queries”, they explained to me.
“What did she tell you then?” I asked. Well, they replied, she only emphasised on the pregnancy and completely ignored other consequences that could come up as a result of lack of adequate information about SRH.
“She never mention about whether periods can be regular or irregular, never taught us about the use of contraceptives and never ever, about sex itself, she portrayed sex as a big crime and we never had any take from her regarding that subject.”
Through that back and forth conversation between me and my family, there came a question in the back of my mind;
What happens to the young people of our generation in the rural and even urban areas but with little access to the internet and those who are not able to afford schools?
They are the mostly misinformed and facing the risks such as;
· Unintended pregnancy. Where research has shown that some 37% of births in Rwanda each year are unplanned—a proportion that varies slightly by province, from 34% in the West and the North to 37–40% in Kigali City, the South and the East.
· Sexual transmission diseases like HIV/AIDS, Chlamydia, Syphilis, Gonorrhoea and Trichomoniasis which spreads quickly due to unprotected intercourse.
· Unsafe abortion where each year, approximately 26,000 women are treated in heath facilities for complications of both induced and spontaneous abortions.
Though there are already some programs in place made by our health institutions, and a good progress on certain levels such as the use of contraceptives to reduce the unwanted pregnancies, it is crystal clear that there is still more to be done adding to that, basing on these few research points and many more out there, so that young people in our communities gets relevant information about SRH.
With my personal ideas and the help of the research made by Guttmacher Institute and National university of Rwanda School of Public Health (NUR-SPH), here are the ideal solutions to curb the consequences caused by lack of knowledge and misinformation about sexual reproductive health;
· Through objective soap operas and storytelling.
Young people may gain a big deal of information about SRH, via the message and the fun that goes with it. This can be realised through collective effort by the health institutions, government and private sectors by supporting talented young people in regard to this endeavour of increasing the awareness of SRH to its peers.
· Organising competition in schools and on the national level.
Through debates, sports, poems, songs to name a few, and encourage young people to participate so that they get to learn more about SRH.
· Strengthen contraceptive services.
Women and service providers need better information about correct and consistent method use, so that current methods are used as effectively as possible. Couples currently using a traditional method (8%) should be given better access to contraceptive services so they can switch to a modern one.
Emergency contraception use, which is rare in Rwanda, needs to be expanded to improve women’s ability to avoid unwanted pregnancy after unprotected intercourse. Tailored interventions are needed for women at the highest risk for unwanted pregnancy because of their highly unmet need: single and sexually active 15–29-year-olds (56% of whom are not practicing contraception despite not wanting to become pregnant). Other women with high levels of unmet need—at roughly one-quarter—are the poorest women, the least educated and women living in the West.
By implementing these solutions, today’s parents and young generation in the Rwandan communities will increase its awareness about SRH, and the results will be the reduction of schools dropouts due to unplanned pregnancy and sexual transmission diseases, also it will help parents to learn and to feel more comfortable to exchange their experiences about this subject with their children.