Lack of sex education seriously harms the country’s youth.
Education on sexuality and reproductive health is a serious political issue in many Western countries. In this area, elections are won or lost for topics such as abortion and “family” values. But in Ghana (and in many other developing countries), family planning is a matter of life and death, especially for girls and adolescents.
6 years ago, when I was a girl living in a poor neighborhood in southern Ghana, it was normal to hear teenage abortion stories. Also of fourteen-year-old girls giving birth. And 18-year-old men who beat their prepubescent girlfriends because they refused to wash their clothes. No one in authority (parents or teachers) seemed to care that single teenagers, often without legal age of consent, were victims of such events.
That was my “normality”. Many classmates became pregnant and dropped out of school. Others died while abort in unlicensed facilities. And I wonder why, if I saw these problems so clearly, the adults around me could do nothing about it.
In the part of Ghana where I grew up, sex education was very limited. Girls and adolescents lacked access to even the most basic information on reproductive health. The subject was not taught in schools because of “cultural sensitivities”. And the parents and educators were not much help either; Many believed that talking about sex with girls would make them more promiscuous. So instead of being the first aid resource, family and teachers were the last. Many of us consulted each other; Others looked on the Internet, where information is not always accurate.
The lack of sex education seriously harmed the youth of Ghana. A recent study by the Guttmacher Institute (United States) reveals that 43% of girls and 27% of boys have had sex before their twentieth birthday. Most surprising is that 12% of Ghanaian girls under the age of fifteen have had sex at least once (compared to 9% of boys). Among sexually active adolescents, only 30% use any contraceptive method, and only 22% use a modern method (eg condoms). In a country with high adolescent birth rates and staggering levels of sexually transmitted infections (including HIV), these rates are extremely worrying.
Birth control can save lives, particularly for young women. For example, the United Nations Population Fund estimates that an increase in contraceptive use in developing countries would prevent 70,000 maternal deaths per year and 500,000 child deaths. In Ghana, expanding access to modern contraceptives is critical to improving the long-term health of children and expectant mothers.
To begin with, governments should emphasize the sexual health of young people by providing comprehensive education on reproductive health issues, including contraceptive methods, communication with partners and how to find information and support in relation to sexuality. HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Governments should also strengthen collaboration with civil society organizations.
But young people in Ghana can not expect everything to be done by seniors: we must also campaign for our part. That is why a few months ago I collaborated in launching a youth initiative called My Teen Life , which seeks to give young people a voice in the discussion of sexuality issues in rural areas of the country. This project has had a promising start, thanks to the generous support of the Swiss Global Changemakers initiative . Already educates parents and guardians on how to talk about sexual health with their children; Trains adolescent mothers; And works to cut the vicious circle of poverty and early childbearing.
My Teen Life has already reached more than 100 teenagers and their families, and has formed a first group of teenage mothers to generate income by making jewelry and slippers. In the coming months and years, we hope to bring this and other social initiatives to many more, in Ghana and other African countries.
These initiatives seek to reach girls by closed routes for official programs. Until recently, Ghana only provided information on “family planning” to married couples. While this is beginning to change, patriarchal family structures still prevent many women, even married women, from accessing quality services.
Within our small capacities, My Teen Life is an effective way to reach young women. We help them learn and understand what happens when they grow up, and make the best decisions for their future. We empower all the teenagers we work with to keep them from dropping out of school, and we insist that if they give expression to their sexuality they keep control of what happens to their bodies. Much remains to be done, but my colleagues and I believe that change is more lasting when solutions to the problems of young people come from the youth themselves.