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World Contraception Day: A Call to African Leaders

September 12, 2012

This blog is part of a series, edited by Women Deliver, in partnership with Impatient Optimists, on youth perspectives to celebrate World Contraception Day. Share your thoughts in comments and join the conversation at #WCD2012.

Sexual and reproductive health is a human right and essential to human development. But, as a young person living in Africa, it is often difficult for us to realize our sexual and reproductive health and rights, especially when it comes to family planning. Though young people clearly need and want access to family planning, we often have to combat various religious, cultural, and individual prejudices that prevent us from receiving information and services.

Too often, family planning is seen as a subject that is only important to older, married women who have reached their ideal family size. The topic is championed by older health care workers, and they only give guidance and services to women their own age to manage their fertility. It is seen as a social privilege for married women, who are considered as having the 'right' to access sexual healthcare to support their 'acceptable' sexual activity.

Young people who try to access family planning are met with social condemnation, and are left with ignorance and neglect to the detriment of their health and future aspirations. Teachers and parents don’t provide accurate information for fear of giving young people the tools to experiment. And for many young people, the knowledge gap is filled by hazardous information from ill-informed peers, and fantastical movies and magazines.  

I have seen the evidence myself in my own communities. We are smuggling condoms in books for fear of discovery and out-smarting till operators with cunning speech to justify why we have condoms in our grocery packets. Young people are sneaking into clinics and youth centers to get pills, advice and other commodities while receiving accusing glances and harsh rebuke from older patrons and health workers. Those health workers believe that a young woman who has never been pregnant cannot use family planning and occasionally, they threaten to share private information with parents and guardians who are their friends.

Our African communities must face the reality that young people are having sex and that our society’s continued inaction is leaving youth vulnerable to early pregnancies, STI infections, HIV infection, unsafe abortions, maternal deaths and other complications of pregnancy and childbirth. In my home country of Zimbabwe, early childbearing is common. Adolescent fertility rates are 58 births per 1,000 young women age 15-19, according to the World Bank. Yet despite these trends, Zimbabwe hasn’t taken all the necessary steps to facilitate increased uptake of family planning services amongst young people. Zimbabwe is not alone in this; it is sadly the case in many African countries.

Our societies need to realize that there is more to family planning than has been perceived. Family planning for young people is a development issue.  It is imperative that we enable young people to make healthy reproductive choices to ensure sustainable development. When young people are given the ability to plan our families, we are empowered to overcome poverty, save lives, advance gender equality, and further education.

As we celebrate World Contraception Day, I call upon African leaders to engage their conscience, apply adequate reason, and take urgent actions to facilitate increased access to and utilization of family planning services by sexually active young people. The young lives we have lost due to the unmet needs of family planning are a clear indication that if we don’t invest adequately in family planning today, we will pay dearly in future.

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