Population Matters

When it Comes to Reproductive Health…

June 15th, 2010

Education is empowerment. That was the overarching message of a global conference held last Friday in the National Press Building. The discussion, “Young Leaders Working to Achieve Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health (SRRH),” brought together three young women—from Belize, Nigeria and India—who have worked to ensure SRRH within their communities and countries at large.

According to Nigerian youth advocate, Kikelomo Taiwo, comprehensive sexual education is directly correlated with the wellbeing of young people worldwide. “There are so many young people who die everyday, who get infected or affected by their lack of sexual education…so many young people out there would have a better life if they only knew that abortion is not the only way of contraception,” she declared. Taiwo is undeniably correct. Education is absolutely crucial in combating the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and preventing unintended pregnancies.

Approximately 1.3 million unintended pregnancies occur annually in Nigeria and more than half of these pregnancies are terminated in abortion. As many as 215 million women in developing countries have an “unmet need” for family planning, meaning that they want to delay or stop childbearing altogether, but are not using a modern method of contraception.  Some of these women lack access to family planning services, but many are simply uninformed.  Others face cultural barriers to controlling their own fertility.  As a result, an estimated 19 million women every year undergo unsafe abortions.

By the age of 17, panelist Ishita Chaudhry became alarmed as she noticed that youth in India understood little about their sexuality and basic rights. For example, nearly three in four women in India have misconceptions about HIV transmission, a growing problem facing youth in the country. “I really wanted to challenge the way that I was becoming part of a generation of young people who were really unaware of what they were doing,” she explained during Friday’s conference.

In response to this need, she founded The YP Foundation, which provides young people with an opportunity to promote their rights and effect positive social change. Over the past eight years, the organization has worked with more than 5,000 young people—a testament to the social justice void that desperately needed to be addressed.

In a recent blog, Chaudhry wrote;

I always found it interesting, that if you wanted to talk about sexuality, you were asked instead, to talk about reproductive health. That if you wanted to talk about HIV/AIDS, you were asked to talk about abstinence and prevention, instead of being able to talk about rights, treatment and care. And it’s made all of us question, Why is sexuality so problematic?

Why as society, are we so scared to address any kind of sexuality education or rights cohesively? What stops us from giving people complete rather than half baked information that is critical and live saving and that can protect them from disease, empowers them to be informed individuals and that teach them to be respectful to their own needs and desires and to be respectful towards the rights of others as well?

If we want to do a better job of preventing unwanted pregnancies and the spread of HIV/AIDS, we must provide young people with the necessary sexual education and health services. They deserve the right to take responsibility for their own sexual and reproductive health.

We had a chance to speak with Taiwo and Chaudhry after the conference.  Listen to what they had to say:

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