Access to information and knowledge regarding Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) will allow adolescents, specifically girls, to better plan for their future, the First Lady, Jeannette Kagame, has said.
Mrs Kagame made the remarks, on Wednesday, while addressing a high-level meeting of African first ladies under the umbrella, Organisation of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), on the margins of the ongoing 71st UN General Assembly in New York, US.
This event was held under the theme; “Improving the sexual and reproductive health of adolescent girls: The role of First Ladies”, and served as an occasion for OAFLA and its partnering organisations to renew their commitment to further advocate for the best, and affordable, health services in their communities.
Mrs Kagame noted that although the topic regarding sexual reproductive health is still a social, and cultural “taboo” for many Africans, officials cannot afford to let a little discomfort determine whether or not to encourage parents, educators, and health professionals to talk about this issue with the adolescents.
“My belief is that our role is to indeed ensure that our girls and boys have access to the best age-appropriate, youth-friendly health services, and to embrace our responsibility to empower them with keen knowledge, pertaining to their sexual and reproductive health, to help them ensure a thriving life for themselves, and their future children,” the First Lady noted.
The First Lady of Sierra Leone, Mrs Sia N. Koroma, explained that, “the insufficiency of reliable social reproductive health services can lead to unintended pregnancies, the inability of girls to complete their education, resulting in decreased access to the kind of information and knowledge which would allow them to better plan for their future, and find suitable employment.”
The gathering attracted first ladies from Ghana, Malawi, Chad, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, as well as Japan.
Also in attendance were the President of Namibia, Hage Geingos; the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, Dr Tedros Adhanom; the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé; the Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova; UNFPA Deputy Executive Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem; the Director General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), Tewodros Melesse; and government officials of the countries represented and executives of OAFLA’s partner organisations.
The meeting also featured two panel discussions, the first on ‘Making Adolescent Girls’ Sexual and Reproductive Health a Reality: Addressing the issues and the gaps’, and the second on ‘Financing Sexual and Reproductive Health of Adolescent Girls in Africa’.
Mrs Kagame spoke on the first panel, and shared with the attendees select projects, initiated at Imbuto Foundation, the organisation she launched 15 years ago to “contribute to the development of a healthy, educated and prosperous society”.
Her intervention focused on the work of “Family Package”, providing family planning, prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT), nutritional balance, psychosocial support, and male partner involvement among others.
The First Ladies, government officials, and partners present emphasised that caring for the future generation “has to begin today” if the continent is to see a glorious tomorrow.
Participants also expressed the need for a coordinated and multi-sectoral approach to ensure access to youth-friendly and comprehensive sexual reproductive health services through youth clubs, annual camps, national campaigns, and the use of mass and social media.
There were also calls to incorporate the topic into national curricular, as sexual reproductive health education has proven “to reduce unintended pregnancies and improve self-esteem”, as stated by Bokova.
Addressing child marriage
On child marriage, the First Lady of Chad, Hinda Deby Itno, spoke about the need for stringent laws, citing her country’s laws that were passed in 2015 which prohibit child marriage throughout the country.
The relevance of law reforms to put an end to child marriage resonated even more after hearing the testimony of Hawaria Mahamat Abdoulaye, a young Chadian woman married off at the age of 10, who escaped the mistreatment she was subjected to, and is now an advocate speaking up against the dangers of the practice.