Community engagement has been regarded as a vital component to ensure that adolescents and young people have access to information on Sexual and Reproductive Health and rights (SRHR) to reduce the possibility for youth to be exposed to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) including HIV, early and unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, child marriages and gender based violence (GBV).
Nadine was enrolled in school before she got pregnant and she had to drop out. She also remembered that getting pregnant brought shame and that she lost respect from her community. But after joining the youth center club for young mothers, she recalls how her peers helped her regain her confidence.
“I gave birth at a very young age. I used to have stomach pains. Then a boy lied to me by convincing me that having sex will help to stop the pains. Then, that is how I became pregnant. I never thought that a girl could get pregnant during her menstrual cycle. No one in my family told me about this.”
Adolescents and young people are also able to access youth-friendly health services such as information on the different contraceptive services to prevent sexually transmitted infections alongside preventing early and unintended pregnancies. In most cases, teen boys do not know how a condom works.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), through the Safeguard Young People (SYP) Programme, with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and other partners, led a two-day field visit to Karongi and Nyamasheke districts of the Western Province in Rwanda.
“At times when I am teaching and one asks a specific question in relation to SRH, I realize how lucky she/he is to have that opportunity to get answers – you can only imagine the consequences of not having access to such information.” – Cyprien Gashabizi, a peer educator
To tackle the issue of early and unintended pregnancies, UNFPA is supporting the Government of Rwanda in the implementation of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) both in and out of school countrywide. CSE is a curriculum-based education that is age-appropriate, socio-culturally sensitive and scientifically accurate information on Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) to help young people to make safer choices.
We have been trained to have enough information to relay the message to them. I believe that it is important to adolescents and young people to help them understand that there are consequences to the choices that they make. And as a result, early and unintended pregnancies, among other challenges, will happen,” Cyprien Gashabizi added.
So far, 121 master trainers have been capacitated and over 1.5 million students received knowledge and skills on culturally sensitive and age-appropriate CSE to be able to make informed decisions. Anthanasie Mukankusi, Vice Mayor of Social Affairs, Nyamasheke district urged teachers to mainstream the concepts of CSE into daily teachings.
“In fact, this program helps us to help young people change their lives, especially by changing their attitudes and providing them with adequate information about their reproductive health.We will strive to make it sustain, especially through these trainings, building different infrastructures and continuing to change people’s attitudes so that in our struggle for the development we want to achieve, we will come together with our youth.”
Early and unintended pregnancies and risks of exposure to STIs including HIV are linked to underlying barriers such as traditional and cultural beliefs. Sometimes parents do not feel comfortable to discuss SRH as well as menstrual development and management for young girls. This was the case for Nadine Niyitanga, a teen mother in Karongi district.Youth as Partners and Leaders
Innocent Kubwimana, a teen boy pictured above, mentioned that he had an urge for having sex. But when he joined the youth center, he was advised to practice abstinence.“But if that fails, I know I can use a condom,” he said. Building on that, his peer, Jean Niyigene mentioned that he did not know how to use a condom before he started going to the youth center.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) expressed their appreciation of how the youth centres and corners that are empowering youth with sexual and reproductive knowledge and skills for in-and out-of-school adolescents, innovative practices, youth-friendly health services integrated within others, and the integration of adolescent, sexual and reproductive health and rights into economic empowerment initiatives.
UNFPA recognizes that support is needed and necessitates continued collaboration with partners to ensure adolescent responsive and inclusive laws and policies, Comprehensive Sexuality Education for in-and out-of-school linked to integrated HIV, GBV and Sexual Reproductive Health information and services, and young people’s active participation in development. All this is at the core of the SYP programme in Rwanda and more broadly across the East and Southern Africa region.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UNFPA – East and Southern Africa.