The International Committee of Women Living with HIV (ICWH), last week, embarked on a dialogue meeting on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of Women and Adolescent Girls with community leaders and members. ENE OSANG was there.
In sexual and reproductive health and rights, women and girl health are of particular concern, this is because pregnancy, child birth, and as well as aborted delivery in some cases, have large impact on women’s health.
Speaking during dialogue meetings at the selected communities in Abuja, advocacy manager, Association of Women Living with HIV Aids Nigeria (ASWHAN) Esther James said issues about sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and adolescent girls are often misunderstood by parents and other people in the society.
James, who noted the different needs of young girls and boys, stated that girls due to their biological features have more need than boys.
She decried the fact that the society, particularly the rural communities, have failed to prioritize this salient issue hence most times the girl child is pushed away when they are in need instead of being given the necessary attention.
“Needs of women and girls are different from that of men and boys, but girls have more needs in terms of their biological features. So, they need more attention.
“If girls are not well catered for they may seek this care somewhere else and also get wrong information. That is why you see young girls getting pregnant because of the lack of right information/education from their parents,” she said.
Speaking further she said, “We are having this dialogue so that we can all have an understanding of sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls because today, we still discover that some women are shy to talk about sexual health like menstrual periods and sex education to their daughters.
“Our parents think that sex education is like teaching the girls how to have sex but this is far from it. Sex education is about teaching them to be able to say no when they are faced with difficult situations, like when a man wants to take them to bed; when they are not supposed to be involved in such.”
She stressed that it is the duty of parents especially the mothers to put their children through the information about changes in their bodies during the puberty stage.
According to her, the rights of married woman to their own bodies, explaining that sexual and reproductive health and rights is about their rights to reproductive health.
“A woman should be able to decide her sex rights, when to get pregnant and so on. The woman has the right to space her children, and right to family planning. It is important for the man and woman to be able to dialogue and discuss on the number of children to have and when to go for family planning.
“When the man refuses to allow a woman to exercise her rights this becomes an issue not only to the couple but the society too.
“The woman owns her body hence the man and woman should have an understanding to enable them negotiate on such important issue in the home.”
Children exposures to strange happenings
The head of One Man Village in Nasarawa state Alhaji Maikifi Bako lauded the group for bringing the programme to the community stating that children generally need adequate protection because they are exposed to lots of strange happenings in the today’s society.
Alhaji Bako acknowledged that many men, who are heads of homes, were not meeting up their responsibility particularly in paying attention to their children.
“The advocacy visit is a good idea because the today society our children needs protection, there are lots of things we take for granted but this visit has really enlightened us.
“For instance most men don’t care about whereabouts of their children and they think it is the women’s responsibility but we have learnt of the dangers of such and we will ensure we pay more attention,” he assured.
The village head further confirmed that the roles and values of women in the society, calling on men who do not know this to begin to have a rethink and open their eyes to the realities on ground.
“Before, when a boy is born the baby will be celebrated but when a girl is born she is not celebrated. But now, we have discovered that females are playing more and more important roles in the society even more than the males.
“For instance, when a boy grows and gets married he only thinks about his immediate family but a girl-child will always think about her father, her parents and siblings well being.
“I support female sexual reproductive health and rights, I also do not advise early or underage marriage. Before, men will say I want to give birth to 20-30 children without considering the health of the woman but now what is more important is to have children you can care for because it is when you take care of your children that they will take care of you in old age,” he stressed.
Guide children against illicit behaviours
On his part, the Chief of Karmo community popularly called Sarkin Karmo Alhaji Umar Gambo said the visit was a good idea, adding that it will educate, especially the women, and also give the men another chance of raising their children properly.
“We need to always guide our children against illicit behaviours and this dialogue meeting has further enlightened us on better ways to achieve that.
Alhaji Gambo also started that girl children needs more attention, stating, “they are exposed to different forms of dangers.”
He assured of ensuring that the issues of sexual reproductive health and rights are discussed during the palace meetings, regretting that this has been neglected in the past.
“I am just assuming office as the newly turbaned chief so I have not received any cases of sexual abuse or violence and i know with the kind of society we have today we cannot avert that.
“I will invite all the parents, relate the message to them and then we can design strategies in which we will curb acts of violence, molestation and abuse of women and girls in our community,” he said.
A mother of three, who resides at One Man village Mercy John, who spoke to Blueprint Weekend on the meetings said she learnt a lot from the meeting especially in the area of relating well with the children.
“I have learnt about the importance of relating to our children particularly the girl child but I am glad I already do this and will improve on that.
“One time, I travelled and somebody wanted to molest my daughter but she refused and when I came back she told me immediately because we are friends. Also, when she started her menstrual cycle she told me immediately because I have been teaching her about that before it came.
“So, I relate with her freely so she can know that life is about good and bad so that when she encounter any ugly situation she can come out of it,” she said.
John maintained that women and girls have sexual and reproductive health rights, urging parents to understand each other and bring forth children they can take care of.
Also, a 19-year-old JSS 3 student Aish Zubairu Baba told our correspondent that the dialogue taught her the need to obey her parents, be focused on achieving her goals in life and be brave to say no to what she doesn’t want.
Call on parents, government
The advocacy manager advised parents to always give listening ears to their children, particularly girls, by always creating time for dialogue, irrespective of how busy they may be.
She called on government to provide family planning facilities at health centres just like the federal ministry of health is doing already and regularly sensitize health workers on these issues.
“We have done a lot of talking in the past we want more action from government and all stakeholders to put all hands on deck. We want to see a transformed society where our adolescents have equal access to health services and education.
“Government should look at issues around parental consent because whether we agree or not, a girl of 13 is already having sex and you don’t expect them or any other girl who have started having sex to come tell say she is doing that.
“We need to face the reality on ground.
I know of a girl of 13 who is already committing abortion, local abortion and this is because they do not know, they need all the information to guide them through the adolescent and youthful stage.”
She further stated when they have these issues and they want to go to the health facility to get information it is a huge burden on them because of the fear running into nurses who probably know their parents or family members and when they run away from facility they run to friends who most times gives them the wrong information and we don’t want this to continue.
“We are asking the government to strengthen the youth friendly centres here in Nigeria so that adolescents and youths can have equal access to services, what I am saying is that these youths should be able to go to the hospitals and ask for contraceptives and they are given.
“Also adolescent girls that have already given birth should have access to family planning services because most times when they go to the facility their bio-data is taken and they are asked questions like: Are you married? How old are you? And when these health workers know that you are not married they begin to pass judgemental statements and we don’t want that in our society.
“We want our girl child to be protected from every form of harm so we should make family planning commodities available at all levels,” he emphasised.