Friday, September 13, 2013

Hear Me Roar

Three recent articles in the Tanzania Daily News have caught my eye in recent days.  Firstly, they attracted my attention because of their relevance to my post about the intellectually impaired girl in Msaranga who has been a victim of various sexual abuses; secondly, because of the recurrence and intensity of the pieces; and thirdly, that they had even been published at all in a country as socially conservative as Tanzania.

On September 7th, I found this piece titled "Education on Sexual, Reproductive Health Rights Underscored Strongly," written by a woman (journalist Hilda Mhagama) and focused primarily on the words of a woman (Anna Mushi, Gender Advisor to the Wazazi na Mwana Project, a locally run venture from Jhpiego, out of Johns Hopkins).  Seems that if a real change in this area is going to take place, we're gonna have to look to the ladies for support.  Check a few snippets below:

Improvement in social attitudes towards Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) education is crucial in ensuring that young people become capable in applying it and enjoy a healthy and risk-free adult life .... Ms Mushi said that the right to education gives young people access to important information on reproductive health which can guard them against abuse and exploitation .... She said that when this right is denied, the results are lack of knowledge, lack of access to modern contraceptives, decreasing social status, increased sexual harassment of women, and an increase in HIV infections .... Girls in marginalized communities are most discriminated against, in their own homes as well as at educational institutions and health centers .... "The government should give priority to sexual and reproductive education as it is unsafe to have a community which is not conscious of those matters," she added.

The following day, another article ran with the headline "Society Owes Youths Reproductive Health and Rights Education."  This time, there was no byline and I noted that the language was more candid and concentrated than the previous day:

Growing up can be very daunting for many young people not so much in terms of physical growth, but more that they are ignorant of what is happening to their bodies .... Without accurate and timely information on sexual and reproductive health, many teenagers may make decisions that cost them their wellbeing and ruin their futures .... They need to be comfortable with the fact that what they are going through is normal and that they now have the responsibility of protecting themselves from harmful sexual practices .... The question here is who is teaching our young people the facts of growing up?  Parents want the schools to do it but fail to agree on how they should be taught and at what level.  The schools claim they are waiting for guidelines from the authorities concerned while religious leaders insist on taking the moral high ground of 'thou shall not preach such matters.'  So while this circus carries on, more girls are getting pregnant and are thrown out of the very same schools that do not want to take responsibility of teaching them sexual and reproductive health! .... It is time stakeholders got their heads out of the sand and addressed the problem squarely once and for all because as they run helter-skelter, it is the non-governmental organizations that come to the rescue .... Young people have a right to access information on reproductive health yet their society as a whole denies them that right as they refuse to take responsibility.  Parents, schools, health centers and even religious institutions need to wake up to the reality that young people need the support now and not later.  Later is too late.

Finally, more from Hilda on the 12th under the headline "Change of Attitude Crucial for Reproductive Health."  (PS: While I know that most of this campaign for SRHR education is for the benefit of older schoolkids, I can't help but feeling like my little ones could also profit from some direct edification about sex and their bodies.  If someone had told my little II girl in Msaranga that once you put your chupis on in the morning, you don't take them off until you reach home again, you don't let anyone touch you between your legs, and you don't talk to strange men who call out to you spontaneously from the shamba, maybe then she would still be an innocent .... in every way.)

"We have to improve awareness among youths by creating an enabling environment for them and advocating SRHR friendly policies in the education and health sectors," Ms. Mushi explained .... Speaking about family planning services, Ms. Mushi said that health centers need skilled service providers so that they can provide proper education and services to youth and women .... She further said that it is also important for sexual reproductive health education to involve men instead of approaching women only as the matter is crucial for both genders without exemptions.

So, all the way from the USA, I stand in solidarity with Ms. Mushi and Hilda Mhagama in roaring this out: FIX THIS PROBLEM, TZ!  "LATER IS TOO LATE!"

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