Life is Sexually Transmitted

 

“We
are all products of sex and we should not feel ashamed talking or reporting
about it”. These were the opening words of Lisa (Not real Name). She was
speaking to Journalists and Communication officers at a training on reporting
health at Voice of America (VOA) offices during the AIDS2012 conference in
Washington DC, which I was privileged to attend. Lisa was HIV positive and she
said that she was not happy about the little attention that’s given to
reproductive health issues by mainstream media. Her argument was that; many
people are not comfortable talking about SEX.
Asked why, she said that’s her mission now, to find out the big
“WHY”.

Well,
there are thousands of Lisa(s) where I come from. The mention of the word
SEX is received with suspicion, discomfort and pretense. Sex has been given all
sorts of names such as “bad manners”. Parents in many African countries find it
very challenging to talk about Sex to their teenagers. I cannot blame them
because, I bet they weren’t talked to either and only found out about it on
their own. The only time that many young people in Africa learn about something
related to sex is in higher primary when they are introduced to a topic on
reproduction. Of course there are few exceptions who learn from parents who
have little respect for their children to an extent of having sex in places
that are easily accessible by curious children.

This
lack of Sexual and reproductive health information gets worse for the Girl
Child as she grows older and at puberty. She never understands why she has to
bleed every month, why her hips are expanding, breasts developing and why her
mother keeps on telling her to stay away from boys. When a mother or guardian
sees her around boys (Innocently playing) she makes utterances such as “If you
get pregnant, I will disown you. You cannot embarrass this family etc.”. To start with, the teenager has no knowledge about pregnancy let alone how
one gets pregnant. Yet none of the parents is courageous enough to explain
this. It gets worse when fathers think that sex education is purely a mother’s
role. No it is NOT. It takes two to tangle, so raising and educating the
children should be done as a team.

Times
have changed now, with the technological advancement, access to smart phones,
emergence of social Networks, lots of information and relatively affordable
Internet access, teenagers are wasting no time finding out about this
mysterious thing called “SEX”, It’s now a click away and parents need to up their
game. They cannot afford to sit and pretend that their children are Innocent.
And those who have, have had to pay dearly through cyber bullying, trafficking
and addiction to pornography.  The
earlier you take the bull by the horns and talk to your children about sex,
sexual and reproductive health, the better for you as they grow.  Because whether you like it or not, they will
find out about sex, they will engage in it and it will have an impact on them
depending on the decisions they make. It’s better if they have prior knowledge. The statics on Child Marriages, Abortions, drugs, brothels, Teen pregnancies, prostitution etc would be history or close to that.
This
piece was inspired by UNFPA youth Hackathon, which took place in Kampala Uganda
from 21st -24th July 2015, for which I was a judge along
side Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi, UN secretary General envoy for youth, Dr. Bruce B
Campbell, Director of Technical Division of UNFPA in NYC, Dr. Kenneth Paik a
research Scientist and Lecturer at MIT and Dr. Dorothy Okello the director of Resilient
Africa Network (RAN).  We were looking at
Apps that had been designed by young people to address the sexual and
reproductive health (SRH) challenges facing adolescents and youth especially
the vulnerable ones. Read more about it here
The Judges discussing after Pitches from the Hackathon Teams
The
fact that these young developers could identify exiting SRH issues and seek to
find solutions for them was encouraging. The choice of the winning team
depended so much on what the APP could achieve and the fact that it was addressing
day-to-day issues. Most importantly, it had to be one that could be replicated
in all continents and used by the target group regardless of geographical
location.
In UNFPA’s Executive Director’s tweet, he emphasises the need for sex education. And it start with you the parent.
  • Beautifully written piece Maureen and right on the money. We have to start talking about issues of Sex, reproduction and the like if we are to empower teenagers and especially girls to know about their options.

    • Many thanks Evelyn. Indeed talking openly about these will save generations.