Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Rural Adolescents are more Exposed to SRH Hazards

Teenage pregnancies remain a serious predicament despite various measures to backtrack the problem. It has been noted with great concern that teenage pregnancies are predominant in rural areas due to lack of SRH information and awareness on the risk factors.

A lot of cases concerning teen pregnancies have been recorded in the rural areas due to cultural beliefs and norms that are inherent among people of the rural communities. Worse still, discussion of sexual reproductive issues in family settings is generally considered a taboo. Parents in rural areas still consider sex education as the responsibility of teachers and initiation ceremony counsellors, and some even consider it as a sin. 

Conversely, the truth of the matter is that it is everyone’s responsibility to provide necessary and accurate SRH information to adolescent boys and girls. In this way, our society will help the youth to be in a position to make informed decisions and choices and eventually reduce cases of teen pregnancies. In some instances, the youth are imparted with wrong SRH information by initiation ceremony counsellors thereby making them vulnerable and prone to a lot more SRH risk factors.

In schools, sex education is not given enough time and attention. Boys and Girls get a lot of information pertaining to their sexuality from their peers–who are also less informed. The scenario is quite different in urban areas as there are wide and diverse ways of getting information. This is because circulation of newspapers and magazines is targeted for the urban dwellers and the urban youth are more exposed to a number of media than their rural counterparts.

Furthermore, in some instances, teachers in rural areas are also culturally bound to be explicit in teaching sex education. Consequentially, children are left with more questions than answers.
A number of studies that have been conducted in several schools show that out of 200 girls who drop out of school, a total of about 101girls dropout of school due to early pregnancies.  Out of this total number, 40(39.6%) of these are girls from urban schools and 61(60.4%) are from rural schools.

72 girls indicated that peer Pressure was the main cause of their early pregnancy and of the total number, 47(65.3%) are from urban schools and 25(34.7%) are from rural schools.

From this research, it shows that there is need to support adolescent boys and girls who live in rural areas with comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education. In addition to this, there is need to build the capacity of various institutions at community level so that they should intensify advocacy and raise awareness on adolescent sexual reproductive health issues. Most institutions target only the urban youth leaving out those who live in rural areas.

YONECO is one of the organizations that are spearheading advocacy and empowerment of the youth on SRH issues in both urban and rural areas of Malawi.

Monday, 24 March 2014

An Innovative Way of Addressing Adolescent SRH Challanges

As one way of improving access to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRH&R) services among the youth in Malawi, YONECO recently conducted some activities in Mzimba and Kasungu Districts. The organization seeks to improve quality delivery and access of SRH&R information and education services by enhancing the capacities of the youth to make wise and informed decisions.

Young people, as they grow, face a lot of challenges both at school and in their designated communities. Lack of proper information on issues that affect their lives is one of the major challenges and this endangers their lives. In Malawi, most young people start having sex before the age of 14 and this indicates that most young people are at the risk of being infected with sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.

Due to lack of access to appropriate information within the communities and schools, cultural beliefs and customs, among other factors, promote child marriages, early pregnancies that ultimately lead to an increase in the perennial school dropout rates especially among adolescent girls. In addition, lack of platforms for sharing life experiences and lessons among young people coupled with a lack of friendly environments for the same are also among the triggers of the frequent SRH and R challenges that the youth are facing in Malawi.

On the issue of lack of information, a number of studies have shown that in most African cultures, parents are traditionally restricted to talk to their children about issues regarding Sexual Reproductive Health. This also prevents young people from getting SRH information at the right time.

However, peer education sessions greatly assist in reversing the current adolescent SRH problems and challenges. Peer education sessions provide an opportunity for young people to build various skills in decision making, problem solving, goal setting and other relevant life skills.

Peer education sessions further provide awareness and information among peers who are both in school and out of school. The awareness is highly-prolific mainly because of the context and its perspective as the youth understands each other and their SRH issues better.

YONECO, in March this year (2014),  has trained both in school and out of school life skills facilitators and SRHR advocates who are also peer educators in Kasungu and Mzimba districts. Thus, the youth will be sharing SRH information, skills development and behavior change strategies among themselves within their designated groups in the aforementioned two districts.

To this effect, YONECO will be organising information sharing sessions for peer educators. The peer education sessions will be facilitated by the trained in and out of school facilitators and they will be supported by YONECO staff. 

NB: All young people in Malawi should also know that this is possible in your respective areas, think about it and let someone know in case you may need some assistance.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Scratching the Surface Won’t Do

It is an undeniable fact that behind every pregnancy there is a man. The rise in the number of teen pregnancies underscores the fact that we are somehow not doing enough to provide support to our youth more especially to our young girls.

Last year in October, I was among a group of people who attended a Parenting Network in Africa (PAN) conference on parenting and it was hosted by YONECO in Mangochi. The conference brought to light several parenting challenges and dilemmas from an African perspective. Among the salient issues was the fact that we generally have a lot of teen mothers and not much is mentioned about the fathers.

It is an enigma to note that there are a lot of unmarried teen mothers who are loaded with the responsibility of raising children while the men behind are always absent. They deny responsibility due to several factors.
 Some men who impregnate these young girls are usually old as well as married and they feel that accepting responsibility will tarnish their image in the society. Furthermore, they are usually people who are also unable to support their legitimate children.
 Behind some teen pregnancies there are also teen boys who are dependent on their parents. These are just young boys who even fail to fend for themselves and they are always shocked with the issue of fatherhood and its associated responsibilities.

However, these are not valid reasons to deny responsibility. There is no any convincing argument that such reprobates could put across to convince any person who is of sound mind. My aim is not to demonise any individual, even though the conduct is outright wrong- who am I to judge?

 However, I am only suggesting a conversion so that all individual concerned should take up full responsibility and make things right for the mothers as well as the kids involved. If one does not want to be responsible for any pregnancy, is not abstinence a way out and why should there be such scenarios amidst a wide variety of birth control methods in our health centres?

Most young people do not recognise their sexual reproductive health life as a serious issue. They do not want to seek information and they do not pay attention when information is being disseminated. In Malawi, there are a number of radio programmes that are aimed at promoting young people’s sexual reproductive health. It is imperative for the youth to listen to such programmes and this is where they can learn one or two things.

As we talk of teen mothers, we should also realise that teenage pregnancy is a killer.  Every single year, there are a lot of adolescent girls who, sadly, do not reach the point of being called mothers as they lose their lives during child birth. It is high time we treated the symptoms and now, young people’s SRH problems really need to be tackled from the roots and young people themselves need to be active participants in the process. 

The factors that lead to early pregnancies and many other SRH challenges among the youth vary from district to district. It is therefore the duty of all the youth together with members of each individual society to stop scratching the surface and dig deep to the root of such adversities. The silence that has been used for quite sometime to cover the factors that promote early pregnancies is counterproductive. there is need to start talking about the possible mechanisms  that should be put in place put to an end to the challenges.

SRH problems among adolescents are as a result of several factors that are deeply rooted in a number elements within our societies. As the Executive Director for UNFPA, Babatunde Osotomehin said, “adolescent pregnancy is most often not the result of a deliberate choice, but rather the absence of choices, and of circumstances beyond a girl’s control”.

An increase in the number of teenage pregnancies and its associated adversities is so alarming.  This calls for some aggressiveness in the way we approach the issues pertaining to sexual reproductive health of young people. It is high time we realised that scratching the surface wont do the trick  and it has proved to be a very bad idea!

Women and the Youth Towards Tripartite Elections

The youth and women have all the potential to transform their respective communities. They are also capable of ensuring that their needs are considered in local development initiatives and service delivery. The only hindrance is that they are not given a chance and it is time we left out a larger group of the total population due to unjustifiable patriarchal propensities.  

All along, a good number of development initiatives in Malawian have been overrun by the tendency of favouring men at the expense of women, the youth and children. A complete overhaul of such a system is a necessity. Men do not need any social service more than women and the youth. If anything, then we will find that the youth and women seem to be in need of little more social services than the way men do. Why should people with similar characteristics be treated differently just because of age and sex?

The lack of ward councilors has also negatively impacted on social and economic development of the youth and women. Women have been travelling long distances to access clean water and the problems concerning long distances to clinics that have no maternity wings cannot be overemphasized. Young people fail to go to school in the rainy season just because there are no bridges across the rivers or streams.These are just some of the challenges and there are still many more heartrending problems out there.

There is need to build the capacities of the youth and women by giving them a chance to express their opinions during community dialogues. They need to be considered in the issue based campaign and let their choices and needs reflect on the citizens charters. 

The May 20 tripartite elections will offer an opportunity to women and the youth to have their long overdue problems to be addressed as there is a provision for them to vote for a development-minded ward councilor.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Thoughts on Adolescent SRH and Parental Guidance

Adolescent boys and girls are shy and afraid to seek information concerning sexual reproductive health. Furthermore, most parents do not feel comfortable to discuss issues concerning sexual reproductive health with their adolescent children. Is because the parents have inadequate knowledge on the subject matter or they are restricted to cultural and traditional norms?

The price that we pay due to the fact that we (parents and children) do not talk to each other is too high than its alternative. This is why I wonder why young people and their parents tend to opt for silence that eventually leads to a lot of sexual and reproductive health problems among young people? What is not considered is the fact that the aftermath impacts on both the child and the parents in one way or the other.

Unintended pregnancies are a usual feature in our society today. Some parents reach the point of disowning their own sons and daughters because they have impregnated someone or they have been impregnated. However, such scenarios could be easily avoided by dealing with what we think is shyness and be open and discuss the fundamental issues concerning adolescent sexual reproductive health.

Why should the life of a young and energetic person be in turmoil because he or she had no information while the parents, uncles and aunties had some information that could have helped to circumvent the situation?
Early and unintended pregnancies, STI infections, HIV and AIDS prevalence rate, obstetric fistula and many other SRH problems have increased because of several reasons and among the top is the fact that parents and their adolescent children are not open to each other. The reasons why we do not talk with our children or parents about SRH issues is that we are shy to talk.

Most young people are facing a lot of SRH problems  and some are even losing their precious lives while their parents, uncles and aunts are capable of providing guidance and the necessary information on the subject matter. This reminds of an old adage in Chichewa that says mbewa yamanyazi inafera kuuna  (a shy mouse died of starvation right in its hole while its fellow rodents had plenty to eat outside the hole).

The absence of parental guidance and counseling on issues of adolescent’s sexual and reproductive health has provided an opportunity for peer pressure and misconceptions to thrive in influencing the day today decision making of young people.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Tripartite Elections and Young People’s Aspirations

Ciao Young people from across Malawi! Days are fast approaching to the much talked and often written about tripartite elections and the issue based campaign. I hope you are all conversant with this and if not, there is still a lot of time to acquaint yourself through a number of ways and the very best one being asking.

 Do not let the forth coming 20 May tripartite elections be like an everyday occurrence. It is something special and important in its own right so much so that Young people are bound to benefit a lot from it.

Young people ought to be at the helm of a nation’s development initiatives and this is an obligation. However, you may have been failing to contribute effectively in the last four or five years due to a number of factors. An opportunity has once again presented itself once again after five years and you better get hold of it – The onus is in your hands.

Young people really need to know that they are supposed to actively participate in the electoral process if they are to enjoy the fruits of their right to vote. In this light, attending political campaign rallies is essential as they will need to clearly grasp the essence of each and every manifesto in order to make right choices. 

Young people are also supposed to make sure that their designated wards have come up with clear and comprehensive social contracts for the candidates. There is need to be smart and It is necessary to desist from the yeast of politicians. There are some unruly politicians who erroneously think that young people are ruffians whose only value is in causing violence and mayhem for them to make irrational political statements.

The issue based campaign initiative presents an opportunity for young people to convey their needs, visions and aspirations to whoever will be voted into power. Thus, a social contract that is in line with a particular office’s mandate will definitely have a bearing to the realisation of your displeasures and aspirations as young people.


 The electoral governing body in Malawi will, on the 21st of March, 2014, officially open the campaign period. This is the time whereby the constituents will be gesturing the candidates to articulate the strategies they will employ to address the social concerns that will be outlined on the forms. Let us remember to include cases of the youth, women and children. 

Saturday, 8 March 2014

SRH Issues and the ‘Culture of Over-Trusting Elders’

I have come to realise that among the factors that bring about sexual reproductive health problems among young people in our society is, with due respect, the culture of over-trusting elders.

We tend to believe everything that the elders say as gospel truth and we do not even question the rationale behind their proclamations. The elders also know this and they sometimes take advantage of our dupable little selves to advance their egocentric agendas. They just give prescriptions on how certain things should be done without giving any justification what so ever.

However, if the elders are to give their reasons for taking a particular stand, their reasons are always unsatisfactory and somehow very fallacious. Surprisingly, the elders always have a last say on everything and they get support no matter what. Their jurisdiction is indisputable and their ideas are always unanimously agreed. Here are some anecdotes;

    -14-year old Nabengo will marry John next month and she will drop out of school.We are          all happy about it and it is nobody but her uncle himself who has said so.  

      Subsection (7) of section 22 of the Constitution of the Republic Malawi permits marriages      of people who are aged between 15 and 18 so long as there is parental consent.  

    - All adolescent girls will commence the forthcoming academic year studies a bit late                 because the elders of this village want them to undergo an initiation ceremony first.

   - All the boys and girls who undergo initiation ritual sleep with members of the opposite sex      as a way of welcoming them to the world of elders. This is a way of proving to them that            they    are now adults and they are free to do what the adults do.

   - Since we do not have enough money to pay tuition fees for two children; Nasibeko will not      go to secondary school and instead her brother will. After all there are so many good                suitors in this village.

All the above statements were consummated in each scenario without further ado and no questions were asked.

This brings me to the question, Why is there too much trust in the elders? For instance, the case of the above quoted  subsection (7) of sections 22 of the Constitution; everyone in Malawi knows that there are some greedy parents who marry off their daughters as young as 15 with well to do old men. The reason for marrying off their daughters is just to enjoy somebody’s wealth using their unwary daughters as baits.

 Why does our Republican Constitution provide a legal backing to child abuse and infringement of adolescent girls’ sexual reproductive health rights?

Let us reflect a little bit more and envision the size and how a 15 year old Malawian girl looks like. I think it is improper to put her fate in the hands of elders (parents) who are also subjected to error. By the way, have our good legislators and elders ever listened to the doctors’ lecturers on obstetric fistula?

For quite sometime, sexual and reproductive health issues and rights of young people have been neglected.

 I would like hear the views of young people who, in this case, are at the receiving end...  

Young People Should Seek SRH & R Information

YONECO is currently implementing a number of projects with the aim of promoting education as well as advocating and enhancing Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRH&R) of young people. The organisation has been focusing on issues that prevent boys and girls from completing their education as well as advocating for Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRH) of adolescents.
SRH issues greatly affect social-economic welfare of adolescent boys and girls and the problem is that to some extent, our society does not really give a listening ear to young people’s concerns. As such, boys and girls suffer in silence. In most cases, the youth end up in difficult situations because they had no knowledge of the imminent negative consequencies of their escapades. Thus, the elders blame them as being careless and immoral, while the actual cause of the problem lies in the elders themselves. It is the responsibility of older members of the society like parents, uncles and aunts to provide a platform where they can engage the youth and listen to their SRH dilemmas and understand their misconceptions in order to clear their misunderstandings
I would like to encourage my fellow young people to seek information concerning their sexuality. Credibility of the sources where you get this kind of information is of paramount importance as well.  On your part as a young person, you should also make sure that you are seeking information concerning SRH and R. Sometimes things do not just come and in such scenarios one has to seek what he or she wants.
Among the most notable and trust worthy places where you can get credible information about SRH include; NGOs that deal with such issues for example YONECO, health centers and clinics that are in your area and there are also a number of youth oriented magazines on SRH. 
 As young people, it is impossible and dangerous for us to know everything on our own. There are some things which you cannot just experiment on. Young people should always remember that seeking information pertaining to issues concerning sex and sexuality is imperative and there is no need to be shy about it.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

IWD and Progress in Achieving Gender Equality

8 March is an International Women’s Day (IWD) and this year’s theme is “equality for women is progress for all”. The day is celebrated by women activists across the globe each year on the aforestated day.
IWD was marked by the United Nations since 1975 with the aim of empowering women’s and girls’ rights. In light of this, this year’s theme highlights the importance of achieving equality for women and girls not simply because it is a fundamental human rights issue but because progress in so many aspects depends on its manifestation.
Furthermore, it is not a secret that countries that follow the principles of gender equality are economically better off than their gender insensitive counterparts.
In Malawi, progress remains far too slow and uneven even though efforts have been made to ensure gender equality in terms of access to primary school education, SRH&R services and access to soft for Small and medium scale business.
YONECO, a local NGO in Malawi has been very active in Malawi and the organisation has and is still committed to promoting gender equality. Through several interventions and a number of projects, the organisation has improved the livelihood and welfare of women and girls in Malawi.
What progress has been made in your country to promote women and girls rights?
Together let us work for women’s rights, empowerment. We can achieve gender equality in our societies as we strive to eliminate poverty and promote sustainable development. 
 Remember! Equality for Women is Progress for All