Taboo unveiled

By Khalea Callender from the YWCA of Trinidad and Tobago. Khalea recently attended the World YWCA International Training Institute 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.

As I stepped off the plane at Kilimanjaro International Airport, greeted by the warm African breeze of Tanzania, my excitement to be at this International Training Institute (ITI) wentKhalea web through the roof. Words could not explain how I felt as it was also my first time in Africa. After clearing the immigration and custom officials, we were greeted by a young woman from the YWCA of Tanzania who ushered us into the car, and so my journey began. The ride from the airport to the hotel was approximately one hour long, which I spent mostly in silence. Questions kept rushing through my mind; some I had no answers for, while others the answers seemed were quite short. Why were the street lights not turned on? Why were there so many young women walking the dark streets for what seemed like miles to the next lighted area? I had to remind myself that we were indeed in the year 2014. The realities of living in Tanzania were slowly becoming my reality. These things I only saw on television and I wouldn’t dare to think that in the year 2014, people still lacked basic commodities, such as electricity. As we approached the hotel though, the scenery slowly began changing.

Day one of the ITI was filled with so much excitement. 80 women and young women participants from all over the world were in attendance and I had the pleasure of being one of them. The opening of the ITI was a brew of enjoyment. There was so much singing and dancing that it was hard not to join in. Soon after, the tough conversations started to take place, and the word taboo was being frequently used. Taboo in my reality, is a TV show I watch which portrays cultural practices of people around the world. Never would I have believed that taboo would be a word being used in conversations concerning Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).

Coming from the small island of Trinidad and Tobago, for me where sexual education is becoming more and more taught both inside and outside of school, this was a culture shock, and it became increasingly difficult to hear and accept the issues young women and girls face in the year 2014 in regards to their sexuality and sexual education. Why are there so many barriers to sexual and reproductive health right education, especially for young females? Why are young people still being stigmatize for wanting the education? Reality is, whether most want to accept it or not, young people are having sex, virginities are being lost at an earlier age. Instead of criticizing and stigmatizing, we should be providing these young persons with information so that they can be healthy and protected from harm and vulnerability.

To me, each year one lives, it should be used as a stepping stone, towards personal development. Development should begin at a personal level and should also evolve around assisting in development at a community national, regional and global level. In the year 2014, where young women and girls are facing so many issues relating to their bodies and image, and getting accepted into society, why should SRHR still be referred to as a taboo.  Isn’t it one’s right to access basic needs such as electricity and water? Isn’t it one’s right to have access to contraceptives? Isn’t it one’s right to enjoy education? It is one’s right to information, and it is also one’s right to choose and not having to be discriminated against for making that choice. Why is it in the year 2014, where the world is supposed to be developing, that young women and girls still face these challenges?

Needless to say, my first day of the ITI brought home the reality of the life of an African woman. Now don’t get me wrong, not all women in Africa face these challenges, however, what became abundantly clear was the fact SRHR is not central to African women alone, but it is a worldwide issue. My sisters from all over the world faced difficulties in accessing sexual and reproductive health services.

On day 2 of the ITI, my cultural shock was now becoming less of a shock and being more accepted. The topic of comprehensive sexual education seemed to get more difficult to discuss. Why was comprehensive sexual education an issue to be discussed, when according to WHO, “Approximately 16 million women 15–19 years old give birth each year. The proportion of births that take place during adolescence is about 2% in China, 18% in Latin America and the Caribbean and more than 50% in sub-Saharan Africa. Half of all adolescent births occur in just seven countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and the United States.” In 2012, UNAIDs reported that there were 35.3 million persons living with HIV. Shouldn’t we be educating young women so that they can remain healthy and productive? These questions I pondered on a lot during the ITI.

The rest of the week was filled with so much information. I was really blown out of this world to hear some of the best practices from different countries around the world on how they shared SRHR information. They were mostly innovative, creative and exciting but most of all informative. Evidently to me, removing the taboos of SRHR education for young persons would surely assist in decreasing the incidence of a lot of the HIV infections, teenage pregnancies, intermit partner violence and maternal mortality to name a few.

Surely the experience of the ITI meeting and the bonds and relationships formed would remain with me, and it is something that I would take forward with me in the future.