By Minnie Karanja (Rwanda)
Unmet Family Planning needs for adolescent girls is the new challenge that women empowerment and gender equality movement is apparently faced with today. In fact it is a rather gigantic problem according to some UN agencies and international women’s agencies, foundations and organizations.
Forthis reason, during this year’s celebration of World Population Day, donors and stakeholders are gathered in London for the global Family Planning Summit to chart ways in which they can improve access to Family Planning for not just women raising families but girls as young as 15 years old.
To millions of young girls around the world, adolescence is not merely a season in one’s life to transition from childhood into adulthood. Instead, especially in developing countries, young girls are seen to have “ripened” for marriage; being married off often to men as old as their fathers. To others, men around them and in their path start to perceive them as sexual objects — no longer innocent human beings — to serve their lustful sexual desires. From fathers, brothers, uncles, teachers, — none will spare the girls.
Theymust protect themselves, from what? being preyed upon for sex, unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) just to mention a few.
Meanwhile, millions of other young adolescent girls are sexually active — by their own choice or simply because they do not know better. Together with those who are married off at a young age and those who are raped and sexually abused by family members and strangers who should be protecting them, these also are said to be in need Family Planning services.
While it is obvious to myself and I believe many others, Family Planning is needed and I would not shy away from saying that it is a human right for those who are unfortunately married off at a young age. As they are robbed of their teenage-hood and forced to “grow –up” and take on new responsibilities of raising a family. Having unplanned number of children would be akin to digging themselves deeper into the pit. Agreed. We must make Family Planning services accessible for these young women.
An Adolescent girl in Kenya’s West Pokot weeps as she’s led away from her home by her future husband’s family [Pic by:Reuters/Siegfried Modola]
But what about the group of adolescent girls who are willingly sexually active, we should re-think their Family Planning needs.
As we strive for women empowerment and gender equality in our communities, we must keep to the essence of Family Planning — being for couples who are intentional about having a family and wish to exercise their right to determine the number of children they want to have. Family Planning services should not be made available to be used by girls just in case they ran into a boy or man who wants to gratify his sexual desires so that they can avoid unwanted pregnancies.
Moreover, it is mis-leading to contend that the only solution for adolescents who engage in sex is providing them with contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
Providing adolescent girls with Family Planning is a deadly short-cut to dealing with the real issues in society. Greater efforts and resources should go towards researching on reasons why adolescents — who should be having respectful and loving relations with the opposite gender and focusing on building a better future — are engaged actively in sex and action taken to address the emerging issues.
It would also expose our folly to think that unwanted pregnancies is the worst that could happen to a teenage girl who is sexually active, with multiple partners as many are. This behavior without doubt increases their risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections and diseases which affects their well-being.
Little wonder then, that while the number of new HIV infections among adults in going down, the number of new HIV infections is at an all time high and continues to soar among adolescents.
Meanwhile, millions of US dollars are being pumped into not just providing access to Family Planning but improving its access to girls. We are even now talking about teenage friendly Family Planning facilities.
I dare say that we are slowly killing the next generation of young women leaders as we fail to address real societal issues in the pretext of empowering them with facilities that are harmful and perhaps useless to them.