Teen pregnancy is among the challenges Rwandan young people-making up the larger portion of the country’s population- are grappling with, and to which the government is fighting tooth and nail to put to bed.
The government isn’t in this fight alone because both the old and younger generations as well as the civil society have joined the fight hence youth-led organization launching a project like Tubivugeho. Moreover, young people like Cindy Ngarambe are also willing to contribute to the fight by bringing ideas on how to win the fight.
The 22 year old through her essay decided to look at the issue through the health, pleasure and political economy lenses before giving her policy recommendations.
Ngarambe argues that even though pregnancies carry a certain amount of risk notwithstanding the age, there is still a debate on whether the issue is a public health concern which shouldn’t be the case.
“One of the main reasons behind this debate is that research conducted in the developed world show favorable obstetric outcome of adolescent pregnancies”, “however, the health consequences and risks associated with teen pregnancies are made severe in developing countries where access to healthcare may be a challenge,” reads part of her essay.
Furthermore, she corroborated the importance of the health lens with the fact that during and after birth, young mothers face physical and mental health complications, a rarely discussed topic in Rwanda.
After pointing out that sexual health includes the ability to integrate sex into our lives, derive pleasure from it and reproduce when one wishes to do so, the author highlighted that enjoyment isn’t given a proper magnification while looking at sexual health on the blue prints to tackle teen pregnancies, and thus making case for the pleasure lens.
“Sexuality is a taboo topic of discussion in Rwanda, and both children and adults have learnt a lot of what they know on the topic from the radio and from school. If the topic of sexuality is so taboo in the Rwandan society then it is hard to imagine that there would be any discussion on the details of pleasure,” underscored Ngarambe.
She also argued that girls in Rwanda fear the stigma of using contraceptives due to the shame pasted on being sexually active. On another hand, she added that contraceptives have been pushed for family planning and “not for young single sexually active Rwandans to enjoy sexual intercourse whilst taking precautions against diseases/infections and unintended pregnancies”.
Among other things, Ngarambe highlights the lack of knowledge around emergency contraception, “as the community fears that more information on pleasurable sex will lead to more young people partaking in sexual intercourse.”
On top of the dilemma of whether to accept that young people are having sexual intercourses and equip them with the tools they need to do that safely, or to pretend it is not happening to avoid having an awkward conversation, adolescent sexual activity has been framed as a problem socially condemned that bears risks on STDs and unintended pregnancies.
Something that the author insisted it requires a paradigm shift.
This approach to adolescent sexual health, she wrote, can be seen as having been important as a political role, as it is easier to justify public investment in this private aspect of people’s lives if it is framed as a communal problem that needs to be addressed, adding that most of the attention is focused on young girls and women only while it should be on both genders.
The author concludes by giving some policy recommendations.
“Community sensitization and community-based discussions on the topic, including discussions on pleasure, power dynamics and local norms. If done well, this would allow for reflection and critical thinking within the community, and bridge the generational gap that is hindering communication between parents and children on the topic,” recommended Ngarambe.
Sexuality, she also noted, does not make its first appearance during puberty, and therefore conversations about it should not wait until then either. She added that it is important to have healthy and positive conversations surrounding sex before sexual experiences begin to occur to ensure they are prepared for what is to come in the future.
Ngarambe then pushed for programs to ease young mothers back into school after childbirth to allow them to continue to learn in the hopes of a bright future for them and their offspring(s).
“Access to sexual and reproductive health services and products. This is very important and must
be accompanied by accurate knowledge by both the adults and the children of the communities,” she urged.
According to Rwanda Demographic Health Survey (2014-15 RDHS), teenage pregnancy rates in Rwanda have increased from 6.1% in 2010 to 7.3% in 2015. Additionally, 49.6% of teen mothers had their first pregnancy between the age of 12 and 17.