Late Nights, Heavy Heart – ICPD 2014

By Hendrica Okondo, World YWCA Global Programme  Manager for Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights and HIV. Hendrica recently led the World YWCA delegation at  the UN 47th Commission on Population and Development at the UN in New York and shares her views about the commission.

We had a hectic, exhausting and interesting week as we stayed at the United Nations Headquarters daily beyond midnight; the chair frequently broke up the negotiations because there were too many civil society organisations (CSOs) in delegations and threw out all the experts on the two last days. Saba Haile, General Secretary of the YWCA of Kenya and Vanessa Hoyti, from the YWCA of Tanzania who were in the negotiation room said the Holy See representative was even joking about having to have the usual objections on the usual paragraphs.

Hendrica Okondo

Hendrica Okondo

The week started on Friday April 4th, 2014 with the High Level Interactive Debate, where member states outdid themselves giving very positive statements and commitment to stand by their regional outcome documents. Former Egyptian ambassador Ms. Mervat El-Tallawy, stated that the democratic government is back and proud to promote and protect the spirit of Cairo and “will not let the women who came out in great numbers in Cairo down”, she stressed that they would support the Addis Ababa Declaration and that all rights including sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) would be protected. Mrs Viola Onwuliri, Nigerian Minister of Trade and Investment, strongly supported the Addis Ababa Declaration and elaborated all the policies Nigeria has implemented such as robust SRH policy and its commitment to the Maputo Protocal and Maputo Plan. Joaquim Chissano, former President of Mozambique, spoke of the importance of nondiscrimination and nonviolence and access to SRH services. Mr Chissano stressed that there is no culture or religion which allows for killing of humans on the basis of their sexuality.Norway and Sweden spoke about the importance implementing ICPD POA and respecting of regional outcome documents.

Later that afternoon, I went to the UNFPA CSO Advisory meeting where we conducted a political mapping of the member states. As regions the EU and North America seemed to have a strategy of introducing difficult issues at the beginning to derail the process.  Russia and Malta were not happy with this position. The Africa Group was not united and would react negatively. The Asia Pacific Group were said to be united on the Asia Pacific Population Conference outcome document. The Latin America Group was cohesive and supportive of the Montevideo Consensus document which is progressive. Caribbean was supportive although Jamaica was very conservative at the Princeton training. ACP group and Group of 77 broke as Bolivia the representative of the group was pushing language most of the group did not agree with.

The next day part of our World YWCA delegation went to the youth caucus and the NGO strategy meeting. I, Saba and Vanessa went to the Africa member state meeting, where UNFPA, the African Union and ministers from Nigeria, South Africa and Ethiopia explained the importance of supporting the language in the Addis Ababa Declaration and the Africa common position paper on 2015. Most of the delegates were in agreement but Cameroon the spokesperson for the group insisted that the context of national laws must be taken into consideration thus setting the trend for the week long negotiation.

On Monday the 7th of April, we were surprised with the new rule of issuing limited tickets for CSOs only for the overflow room, with one ticket for plenary floor reserved for the head of delegation. Deborah Thomas-Austin, World YWCA President was able to get three tickets for our delegation. The opening ceremony started in a very positive note with UNFPA sharing the outcome of the Global review report, identifying the progress made in implementing the ICPD PoA and the gaps which member states had noted in their country reports. All the states who spoke on day one where very supportive of the first draft of the PoA report, except some of the African member states raised concerns over language addressing family and SRH rights. The negotiations started on a sour note with Cameroon strongly objecting to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) language and use of SRHR, Egypt was also very vocal on the need to include as per national laws on all issues referring to rights.

Later that day, as an organisation the World YWCA signed on to a letter by CSOs protesting the limited access to CSOs especially as all of us had received confirmation for attending from 7-11th April 2014. In the evening, UNFPA issued a letter confirming all CSOs will have access and those with ECOSOC states can get a temporary card for the whole week.

In the following days the World YWCA delegation was involved in intense lobby for all the key SRH issues to be included in the draft outcome documents, some through the youth caucus, and others through the NGO group and others through delegates in the negotiation room. The negotiations and debates went on until 3am most days but the draft document improved with most of the issues on comprehensive sexual education and access to SRH services by youth. The final document was agreed upon late Friday April 11th at 4.30 am!!

My World YWCA ITI Experience

By Leticia Mellonie Velasquez, YWCA of Belize. Leticia recently attended the World YWCA International Training Institute (ITI) on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and HIV, as a World YWCA Intern, held in Arusha, Tanzania and shares her views on her experience.

When I was first invited to participate in the Sexual and Reproductive health and Rights (SRHR) ITI in Tanzania, Africa, the first thing that came to mind was seeing the African women in their full attire of cultural clothing. I also thought about seeing zebras, giraffes and camels walking around. The only thing I was worried about was the lions and tigers. Lol.

Upon arrival and my first day there, I just couldn’t explain how amazing everything was. It was way beyond my expectations. I got to experience how our African sisters from different countries rejoiced in a harmonious way. I really felt the blessing of the Lord among us and his presence was warm and appreciating.

Leticia Mellonie Velasquez

Leticia Mellonie Velasquez

Just seeing how our common visions of spreading the education of SRHR came a long way over the years. Our voices are being heard, and a change is being made. Just our presence at a conference like this was a share example. It created an opportunity for women and young girls to have a better today and a knowledgeable hope for a bigger and brighter future for young women and girls.

Today, as I speak from my entire knowledge and experience on sexual and reproductive health rights and HIV, it allows me to realise that as women, there is a load of work still to do among the many improvements. There are still challenges being faced by many and in order for these challenges to be eradicated, we can’t give up. As women and girls we have to unite to make these changes, and successfully fight for comprehensive, age appropriate sexual education for everyone.

The challenges we face, put a pain in my heart. Knowing that nature embraces us as a gift to the world and carriers of life, a violation of any of our rights, gender inequality and inability to access essential basic needs such as electricity and water is just not right.

Why can’t we break from these barriers of faith and culture? It’s not that we want to forget who we are, but let us just be women and girls who enjoy the natural wonders of life. If the Lord is the only saviour that can judge us, and he does not condemn us, he only gives more and more blessings in life, and allows each of us to decide on how to live it, why can’t everyone?

My first experience as a World YWCA intern travelling to Africa

By Sharon Yendevenge, YWCA Papua New Guinea. Sharon recently attended her 1st ITI as an Intern with the World YWCA and she shares her views on her experience.

My journey to Africa started on the 16th of March 2014 from Geneva airport travelling to Arusha, Tanzania. It was a move to a completely different continent  with different peoplesharon web and yes there I was. The small Arusha airport stood alone approximately a 45mins from my destination Naura Springs Hotel. We arrived late at night and although I felt tired, I was looking forward for the morning to officially start my African experience and to meet other sisters around the world.

The World YWCA first International training Institute for the year  brought together many different people from varying countries to participate.  The participants were mainly from different parts of Africa, but there were also representatives from  Caribbean, Europe, and the Asia Pacific region.  The first day began with   presentations from partner organisations such as DSW, IPAS, ARROW and FERMET, and this was followed by heavy discussions from participants within their regional groups on various SRHR topics. One of the objectives of the ITI was to come up with a regional briefs for the regions represented. From the discussions, I noticed that regardless of  government signing with the different treaty bodies to integrate SRHR in their countries, problems still exist in regards to  poor health services, lack of information, information being too complex for persons to understand, less sensitivity training. In my regional group Asia and Pacific, it was observed that the Governments needs to increase  health services and introduce  mobile clinics for cases of emergencies, 24 hours hotline for Violence against women, train more health workers on SRHR services and also  provide adequate health services for persons in  rural areas. The availability and the use of contraceptives was another thing that was observed to be lacking. There needed to be greater access for women as it has been seen that many women don’t really know about using contraceptives other than the male condom.  It was clearly seen that  people are very often too shy to purchase condoms in public places because of stigma and discrimination that surrounds it. Other important issues such as abortion not been legalised in many countries and high maternal mortality rates were also discussed.

The day two ended with a very exciting cultural dinner, It showcased, dancing and singing from the various cultures and African tribes present.

I woke up the next day sunlight beaming through my bedroom and couldn’t help but smile as I knew this would be another adventurous day.  I had the privilege to visit the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The United Nations had built this court in Arusha, Tanzania especially to hear genocide cases.  It was interesting to hear from the young African women on how the fights have affected them.  In one way or the other, their parents, brothers and sisters, and relatives have experienced a great devastation in their lives, fleeing from war and enemies and ending up in neighbouring countries not knowing where they were going. Still today there are  yet many  untold stories as it can be painful to retell these stories. .

Heading back to the hotel I was so disturbed by the thoughts of innocent lives of women and children and even the men been killed. These bad memories were soon erased as the bus  went off to a snake farm. The excitement I felt to get an opportunity to see the African snakes I often watch on television live in person couldn’t be explained. What made my day even more interesting was that it was also my first opportunity to ride on a camel.  It was so interesting to see how the camel had to get up from the ground and then land. From up on top, I am  sure I heard myself really screaming especially when the camel started to stand up.  It was indeed a  great experience for me and so the third day ended and the fourth day begun with a journey to DSW Centre in Arusha for another day of activities.

Overall, my ITI experience was magnificent and my time in Tanzania, Africa couldn’t have been better.

CSW: Why do we fight?

By Julia Diprose  fromYWCA of Australia. Julia is currently attending the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

Since I found out I was coming to the Commission on the Status of Women #CSW (and bragging about it on Facebook) people have invariably reacted to the news with combinations of “That’s amazing! So, what is it exactly?”

To my chagrin (I am after all a communications professional) I have found answering this question rather difficult. It is only here in New York, deprived of real caffeine and sleep, and spending 16 hour days at the UN, that I have found myself able to answer the most basic of questions – what am I doing here?

julia2

Julia Diprose

The CSW Commission on the Status of Women is an international forum attended by delegations from 45 UN member states at United Nations Headquarters in New York. The Commission is the ultimate policy-making body on gender equality and the advancement of women. It meets annually to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide. The theme for the 58th Commission is: “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.”

Ok, great. Now what does that mean?

At the end of the CSW a document of Agreed Conclusions is produced – it contains commitments that governments around the world make to ensure that the world tomorrow is a equal place for women. The Millenium Development Goals expire in 2015 and we are here to talk about what comes next.

The world’s not so bad, you think. I’m a clever, capable woman. I take care of myself and the idea that I can’t is fundamentally offensive. Beyonce exists. Tina Fey is killing it. We got this.

We forget, in our selfishness, in our loneliness that there is no better time in the world to be a woman than today. That’s true and it should be celebrated.

But.

A girl is born to a family with four children. There is no access to contraceptives and her mother cannot afford to feed four hungry mouths let alone one more No matter. She is born.

I won’t tell you what country she is from because she could be from anywhere. 222 million women around the world have no access to contraception. In the words of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka,  Executive Director of UN Women: When women have unwanted pregnancies they sign a contract with poverty.

Because food is tight and her brothers are prized, the girl grows up hungry. Her mother falls pregnant twice more and means get even more scarce. The costs of school uniforms is such that only two of the six children can be sent to school. The boys go.

It is difficult to make certain claims about womanhood, about sexuality, about feminism. Being a woman today is tremendously complicated and capturing the nuances of our experiences is fraught. Making generalities about men, about culture, about patriarchy and tradition is equally problematic. Everywhere good men stand with us.

But I want to state this explicitly.

Around the world today, women are prized as playthings. Their virginity defines them. Do not doubt that the idea that women could or should enjoy their own body is offensive to many. The plague of female genital mutilation is testament to that. The power and ownership of others continues to define women.

This little girl won’t go to school – won’t learn how to spell or how to count or how to play.

How can she develop the ability and wherewithal to flourish?

I look at my boyfriend’s nieces – teeny, lovely little things who have the utter confidence that comes from only ever being loved. Their beauty and innocence and shining promise is a delight.

How many little girls have never had that love?

And this little girl . She will not be taught about her own body. About what she deserves, about how it should be treated. About how it should be touched. Or not. About respect. All these things will make her vulnerable to abuse in the future.

Can there be a better argument for age appropriate sex education? To save one little girl trauma and invasion and violation.

And this little girl. Will she be subjected to violating and degrading practices? Will her sexuality be controlled by others? Will she be free of harm?

1 in 3 women around the world experience violence – being raped. Being beaten.

Every minute a young woman is newly infected with HIV.  An estimated 150 million young women and girls under 18 years suffered some form of sexual violence in a given year.

So this little girl gets her period at age 12 – a frightening and confusing experience for her as she has never been taught about her body.

And now she is a woman.

She is married – to a man ten, twenty, forty years older than her. A man not of her choosing. A man who sees her as property.

I write this and I cannot begin to fathom the terror of that first night. Maybe of every night.

She falls pregnant. A lifetime of malnourishment means that she has acute anaemia. A lifetime of hunger means that her growth has been stunted, her hips too slim.

She is a child. In no way equipped to support a pregnancy. There is no medical support. There is no support from family.

Giving birth is an excruciating process.

I am terrified of giving birth in the best medical facilities and with the best care money can buy. I cannot begin to fathom what these girls go through.

If she survives the pregnancy, and the birth, if she does not develop an obstetric fistula and the baby survives – the cycle will be perpetuated. We are letting girls and women slip through the cracks.

We are not doing enough, not nearly enough, for girls. For women.

I tell this story conscious of perpetuating a narrative that suggests violence against women is something that happens elsewhere – to other women in an other place.

Violence against women happens everywhere. 35% of girls and women around the world have experienced it. It is insidious. For some, it is having their genitals cut. For some, being burnt and beaten and whipped in the home. For some its the terror of a volatile, controlling partner. For some it’s a life of slavery – slavery that we thought we had eradicated.

Trafficking is in the top three most profitable industries in the world. Buying people is flourishing.

We cannot capture all their voices. But for all of those who cannot, or did not speak, I stand and weep with you. And I fight for you.

A document cannot ensure the end of violence. Only people can. But this document, that holds governments accountable to do more, is a part of something bigger. One piece in a vast puzzle.

I want to be a champion for women and girls at home and around the world.

And that’s why I’m here.

Where Religion and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Meet.

By: Hendrica Okondo, Global Programme Manager SRHR and HIV and AIDS- Focal Point: AfricaImage

Although religious beliefs are a barrier for women to claim their rights, there are opportunities to work with religious leaders as not all religious groups are restrictive. There are some who are listening and meeting women in the difficult situations they live in. One way of working with religious groups is by looking at their values, especially with Christian groups. By looking at their Christian values we can address SRHR through the values of justice, compassion and love. There is also a way we can engage religious groups as there is a big gap between the rhetoric of the mainstream conservative groups and the realities within which the church operates and provides services so there is an element of compassion that can be used. Instead of profiling all faith communities as conservative and difficult to work with, we might want to think about engaging with them by having dialogues. Of course there are those that are inflexible and won’t change because it is within their hierarchal structures and traditional beliefs, but even within that there are common areas of engaging around women and children’s health. So as women’s rights activist and feminists we really need to start the dialogue.

As World YWCA and ARROW are funded through NORAD to have these dialogues, we also need to engage to make sure that they happen. The ultra-conservative groups may not want to discuss. But they are not against education. On the whole religious groups do not object to education or health, universal health or gender equality because it is in the fundamental basis of all religions. Every religion believes that everyone is created equal in the image of God. But it is in the traditions and norms that there is a difference, and therefore a backlash around the whole sexual rights debate and also in terms of women’s agency. So in some religions there is the whole promotion of men as the decision-maker and that women should not have agency. That is a restrictive view of religious texts.

We will be working with a circle of feminist theologians who will be coming from a theological perspective and collaborate with ARROW and working with sisters of Islam who are going to be looking from the Islamic side while we look at the Christian side. At the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) the religion leaders told us that they do not have the skills, whereas UN reports tells us these groups are powerful and well-resourced so there are mechanisms for having dialogue.

Religion for many women is the point of contact; it is the faith based organisations that provide the social support, education, health and social protection. So we need to look at what they provide at the community level. We need to go to them with a positive approach. It is not that everyone who is religious is wrong, for us as the World YWCA we are in both worlds because of our work on rights and advocacy, but we are also comfortable in the faith-based aspect because that is where our members are.

Due to the support that faith-based organisations provide they have a lot more influence in communities. It is also down to member states signing up to declarations and not implementing and not being held accountable as duty bearers. There is an accountability failure and that gap is met by faith based organisations.

Let’s not be naïve, there are groups at the end of the spectrum who want to control women’s agency and there is a backlash. But what we’re saying is why we can’t recreate 1994 at the ICPD conference, there were much more conservative views then, but we were able to have dialogues.

A standalone gender equality goal must include SRHR. Gender has to be a priority over other categories race, disability etc because no matter what you are always worse off as a women. It is a gender and human rights issue.

The Gift of Education

By Mariam William John Bangafu, young woman from the YWCA of South Sudan.

My name is Mariam William John Bangafu and was born in Khartoum, Sudan in 1990. I finished my primary school there and completed my secondary education in Uganda. Now I am sitting the exam for the South Sudan School Certificate but I am finding it difficult to get to the school campus. This is mainly because I fell pregnant, which has really upset my family and they are very angry with me. That’s all I can say. I am now a member of the YWCA and it is helping me to achieve my dreams.

 Our Visit to Bangasu, South Sudan

mariam

Mariam William John Bangafu

My first trip to Bangasu Payma was to a village called Burezigbo. It was wonderful moment; we met with other YWCA women who had come from Tanzania and Switzerland. The purpose of the meeting was to share best practice, challenges and familiarise one another with eachother’s  work. In fact I learnt many different things such as how to develop confidence and be strong as a woman in front of the community and how to communicate and promote our messages. One of the main objectives of the YWCA is to build and develop women’s capacity as decision makers in the community. We also have a very clear focus on youth as a critical population group. If I have to go and help women at Burezigbo I would like to give them the best gift, the gift of education.

Nothing is so marvellous than to travel to different places and get to know the challenges and common threads faced by women and youth. We had the opportunity to visit Nzara County and the first person to welcome us was the Commissioner! He spoke to us and encouraged the women to be active members in the community at decision making levels and mobilise the young women to be independent.

The YWCA women in Nzara have various amazing activities such as having their own plot of land for agriculture and delivering awareness programmes on HIV and AIDS.

However, Nzara women of YWCA have their own challenges- no office for women to carry out their activities and no training space. Despite this, they still continue as best they can. What I found quite interesting was that young men in the village have begun to realise the importance of the empowerment of women and they are giving them support and seeing the positive impact of staying school to reduce poverty.

Second Closed Door Dialogue on Theology, HIV and Human Rights.

By Yadanar Aung, YWCA of Myanmar. 

On 22-23 November 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand, Chantanee molee, General Secretary of the YWCA of Thailand, Lynette, YWCA of Philippines, Sujana Lama, YWCA of Nepal, Cz Ralte, YWCA of India and myself Yadanar, YWCA of Myanmar attended the second closed door dialogue on theology, HIV and Human Rights.

The objective of the second closed door dialogue was to bring together experts in the fields of Christian Theology, ethics, human rights, and HIV, including people living with HIV – in order to further explore, in a safe and private space, the intersections between theology and human rights in the context of the global response to the ongoing HIV pandemic.

(YWCA Delegates and Peter Grove and Ruth Foley from EAA)

(YWCA Delegates and Peter Grove and Ruth Foley from EAA)

Sujana Lama is the young women board member of the YWCA of Nepal. After actively participated at the second closed door dialogue she said,” Yes although we have lots of issues and challenges related to SRHR we still can do lots more without compromising our faith. Jesus the Lord, as our role model who never had discriminatory mindset following on his footstep we should dedicate ourselves to fight against ignorance, denial and hate. The core of our faith is totally based on love and respect for human kind without judging their sin. So all religious leaders need to create safe space in SRHR and HIV AIDS for young women to overcome stigma and discriminations, promote prevention and protect human right.”

Cz Ralt is a project coordinator at Aizawl, YWCA of India and she said, “We need to work together to get zero HIV status even church leaders have to create HIV and SRHR awareness amongst his church members. Young women do not have many platforms to proceed HIV and SRHR campaign, that is why I wish that our church leaders help us create more awareness. Together we are greater than AIDS.”

Yadanar is a young women’s coordinator at the YWCA of Myanmar. She mentioned that,” Churches and church-related organizations play an important role in HIV prevention, treatment and human rights issues since religious leaders have a unique authority and people often listen to their words and follow their guidance. Engagement of religious leaders and faith communities in an open and constructive manner is important. Awareness raising of SRHR, HIV, Human Rights through religious leaders and faith communities to reduce stigma and discrimination has to be increased. As Jesus shows many examples against discrimination, reducing stigma and showing love, we also need to follow His examples and finally we can reach zero new infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero discrimination.”

We really thank World YWCA and Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance for giving us this wonderful opportunity to participate in this second closed door dialogue on theology, HIV and human rights and we really learnt a lot by this dialogue and we will also take part in advocating more participation of religious leaders and faith communities in HIV, human rights and SRHR issues and also share what we have learned to other young women.

Let’s talk about sex!

By Ramya Kudekallu, World YWCA Programme Associate.

ethiblog

Ramya Jawahar Kudekallu at the African Union

When you are the daughter of a gynaecologist and the citizen of a country that was one of the first to have a national policy on family planning, you are no stranger to the issue. However, during my recent attendance of the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) in Addis Ababa, even a self-proclaimed ‘aware’ individual such as me got a serious education.
The concept of ‘Family Planning’ covers a broad spectrum of activities associated with sexual and reproductive health. It includes birth control methods, contraceptives or sexual commodities, sexuality education or awareness, fertility and the prevention and management of sexually transmitted infections.  But truth be told, the issue weaves far further than the above mentioned parameters. The language has now found its way into the Constitution of nations, policy of economies and the business plans of private sectors.
A series of statistics were apparent throughout the event, showing that approximately 287,000 women die every year from problems caused by childbirth. According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (one of the co-sponsors) access to contraception can save women from this fatality.
But for me, the real conversation was around how we were going to include 4 very important terms in every discussion

  •  Sex
  • Youth
  • Culture
  • Scaling

Family planning in my home country of India began 48 years ago. What started as progressive policy making for the government is now the tipping point for our great 1.2 billion population, and although our uptake of contraceptives is on a steady increase, we still cannot seem to find a sense of ‘control’. We add up to 1,000,000 people to our population every 15 days!
So where are we faltering, if I believe we are at all faltering?

We do not talk about sex. No! I implore you not to cringe, cough or sigh while I say this because we both know it is true. We do not talk about sex. It is not just in India, but many parts of the world, conversations around reproductive health and awareness, be it biological or emotional, simply do not take place.

I am not speaking of the mechanics of it. To tell me about the birds and the bees is not enough. As a young person I want to know and understand what the act entails.
I require an environment that is open, free, safe and non-judgmental. I want an atmosphere that allows dialogue around acceptance of female sexuality, the possibility of choice and the idea of rights. I seek a corner in society where I can whisper of how I was assaulted, violated and left pregnant, where I can admit that I cannot give the child within me a life of love, opportunities or care. Grant me a health care system that looks beyond my marital status, my HIV status or class and let me tell you why I cannot swallow those pills you give me or how worried I am that this intrauterine device might make me believe  I can never have children. Accept me deeper still when I tell you I sell my body for money, the blistering wounds on my skin are excruciating and although my circumstances are illegal or unacceptable, I still want to be healthy.

Every tradition and culture replaced one before it, and I have no doubt in my mind that the  dynamics of our ever changing society will allow norms to change once again. My concern, however, is, what notion of change are we slowly going towards. I am not asking for a universal opinion but I am calling for a universal access to information so that we may have the facts to make that opinion for ourselves.

It is not as bleak as it seems. Community workers, health care providers, counsellors, youth and governments across the world have begun to pave the way for access to these rights. It is important that our solutions are appropriate and that we can scale up our practices. Scaling is crucial to sustainability.

The ICFP pulled me to the heart of the issue. I met a world of people in the great walls of the African Union who truly believed bringing the life of another into this planet was an event so precious, it had to be met with the possibility of care, good health, economic resources and security. I was struck by the dedication of young people, not just representing themselves, but a host of marginalised sects in society. Lastly I fell in love with an Ethiopia that opened its city to us and its people. 3.5 million Ethiopian women and men have felt the life-changing benefits of family planning – setting an example that truly ‘full access full choice’ is possible.

It is not about the population or numbers any more, China will agree with me, since they recently surprised the world with the change in their ‘one child policy’.  It touches on a much more concrete and serious affair of value to human life and how each of us, individually or collectively, deserves to be of that profound value.

Moblie Phones for Access to Family Planning Information

By Nelly Lukale, SRHR Champion from YWCA of Kenya.

Nelly

Nelly Lukale

Family planning enables women and couples to determine the timing and spacing of their children and also gives women and their children an opportunity to stay healthy. One of the most cost-effective health interventions is family planning, which can significantly improve the health of women and their children. We have just concluded the third International Conference on Family Planning  with the theme Full Access, Full Choice. This was one of the largest meetings focused on expanding access to contraceptives and family planning for women and girls worldwide attended by thousands of people in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Throughout the meeting, one intervention and solution to access to family planning information caught my attention, and that was the use of Mobile phone technology to reach out to women and girls and give them information on family planning. To me this stood out to be the most cost effective method of getting the message across since majority of women of reproductive age have access to a mobile phone.  Many rural areas do not have health centers let alone well trained health providers, almost all schools do not offer sexuality education nor do they give any information on contraceptives use and if they are lucky to hear about the contraceptives or have access then they are too expensive. According to the World Health Organization, there are 222 million women who would like to delay or stop childbearing, but currently lack access to birth control. Lack of access starts with simply not having family planning services and information available.

Cultural barriers still prevent women and girls from accessing family planning services and information. In some societies, using contraceptives is considered culturally unacceptable, and there is mistrust towards programmes that promote contraceptives which are in most cases opposed by the community and religious leaders. However many people (me included) have dedicated themselves to bridging the gap between this problem and a workable solution. Mobile phone usage is quickly becoming popular with as many people having access to at least a mobile phone connection. This can be the best way to get women and girls to benefit from information delivered through short messages. Through a simple sms, health providers are able to share important information on family planning methods, access, awareness and availability of services. There can also be messages designed to educate mothers on the benefits of birth spacing and reproductive health and also help them make informed choice and decisions, providing valuable information that can save lives.

This low-cost approach to reaching contraceptive users has the potential of improving correct use, uptake, and continuation of selected methods.  The best way is to create a special code where clients can contact the family planning providers on information by sending a specific text message on their mobile phone. From there then they can follow instructions on how to access information on the methods of their choice, including information on the location of service providers.

If this method is properly used then most women will be able to learn about contraceptive methods and to be able to decide which method to use when in need and since most couples share mobile phones, these women will also be able to share these messages with their spouses. Text messaging service is perceived to be being private, convenient, and cost-effective. It is also private and confidential for users who are not willing to share the information they receive with any one and can be accessed at anytime and anywhere even at home where one can read and reflect more on the information received. It is much cheaper than having to travel all the time to the health clinics to find information.  Providing family planning information via text message is a promising method of reaching women and men with health information.

Even with all these technologies we still need to build and promote an enabling environment that allows women and girls to truly utilize those services and take control over their reproductive decisions. We have to engage men and boys in these discussions. Religious and community leaders also have a role to play in ensuring that while access to family planning is expanded, traditions and norms that still hinder women’s empowerment and gender equality are also being transformed. Access to contraceptives is not just about control over childbearing but about women’s empowerment and independence. Expanding access must go recognition of women as full, rights-bearing citizens with voice, power and agency. Full access and full choice can only be realised in a world where women’s other rights are also respected and protected.

I am available, effective and ready for use: I AM FEMALE CONDOM

By Nelly Lukale, SRHR Champion- YWCA of Kenya.

Young people’s need for integrated family planning, sexual and reproductive health and Rights and HIV prevention services, is one of the great challenges facing many youth today. The most affected groups are the youth from marginalized groups, who may be particularly vulnerable to sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV, and other reproductive health issues.

As a participant at the 3rd International Conference on Family Planning in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, my main interest was prevention of unplanned pregnancies, STIs and HIV/AIDS by use of a female condom as a method of family planning. I attended a two day workshop on universal access to Female condom organized by the Universal Access to Female Condoms (UAFC). I was keen on learning the different types available on the market, manufacturers, how to use it and not forgetting demonstrating what I learned to my fellow participants. That is how to use a female condom.

UAFC which is a joint Programme started in 2008 with the aim to make female condoms accessible, affordable and available for all. Different organizations have combined knowledge and expertise in working with civil society organizations, supply chain management and procurement, advocacy on sexual and reproductive health and rights and international politics. The main reason to set up the UAFC Joint Programme was to break the long-time inertia of the accessibility of female condoms at an affordable price and in a sustainable manner. Existing barriers in providing women and men access to female condoms were:  the high procurement price, the lack of competition on the female condom market as well as the lack of programming in many countries.

Nelly

Nelly Lukale

This word Female Condom seems to be a name that is not so common among methods of contraceptives but believe it or not it exists but not used by many due to misunderstanding of how it is used, its high price, who should use it and where it can be found. It is a barrier method made out of a soft thin material, like the male condom, but it can only be worn by a woman.

September 16th of every year marks the annual Global Female Condom Day, a day when education and advocacy to increase awareness, access, and use of female condoms is passed across the globe. Some women still complain that it’s too big and hard to insert but the good news is that there are smaller, thinner and easy to use female condoms coming on the market now. This is the only women -initiated method available that offers dual protection from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS. Studies show that it is at least as effective as the male condom in reducing the risk of contracting STIs and can reduce the probability of HIV infection by 97%. The first time I learnt about a female condom I was in great shock and just imagined its size and how it would remain inside me or even fit. This was until I attended female condom training and learned that it’s so easy and effective to use. Its gives a woman more power to decide about protecting her health.

The female condom  easily heats up to body temperature, is highly lubricated and it can stimulate the man due to the inner ring or sponge and can be inserted a few hours before intercourse so that couples do not have to think about a condom at the last minute when the fire is already on. Several types of female condoms are manufactured today but not all are available in different countries especially Africa. The readily available and accessible one is the FC2.

Young people mostly young women in Africa are vulnerable to unintended pregnancies that can seriously affect their health, education and any other opportunities in life and the only way to address this  is to make available, accessible and affordable effective family planning programs that are not only fundamental to maternal health, but allow women and families to better manage household and natural resources, secure education for all family members, and address each family member’s healthcare needs. Female condoms and been recognized by different organizations as a vital tool for improving maternal health globally. Promoting the female condom is a cost-effective intervention, particularly given the high cost of HIV treatment and other prevention interventions if used correctly and consistently.

Some few facts about female condoms include:

  • The female condom is not just for women  but for  people of all
  • The female condom can actually increase pleasure for both partners as it adjusts to body temperature during sex, creating a natural and intimate feel, and increased stimulation from the outer ring.
  • The female condom offers increased protection against STIs by covering the external genitalia.
  • Female condoms have no side effects and also come latex-free.
  • Female condoms do not require a prescription or clinician involvement, and provide non-hormonal dual protection from unintended pregnancy, and STIs, including HIV.
  • Two different female condom products are currently WHO/UNPFA prequalified (FC2 and Cupid1) with various other products in development.
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