The debate about youngsters and birth control goes on. Whereas abstinence is the only sure way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and of course sexually transmitted diseases, if the rising cases of teen parenthood are anything to go by, many argue that it is time to look into other ways to nurture and protect reproductive health and rights. Studies show that laws limiting teenagers’ access to contraceptive services and information fail to reduce sexual activity and increase the risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Also, the stigma that surrounds reproductive health still stands as a huge limitation in realising full sexual reproductive health and rights. Last week, health and reproductive activists convened in a virtual training where such barriers were brought up during discussions that aimed to increase advocacy around safe sexual reproductive health and rights. Studies show that laws limiting teenagers’ access to contraceptive services fail to reduce sexual activity and increase the risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Net photo Partakers of the discussions were mostly local youth-led and youth-serving organisations who focused on developing a collective of young people that are informed and equipped with the knowledge and information on the local laws and policies that govern reproductive rights. Renauvat Mutarambirwa, community engagement representative at IYAFP Rwanda (The International Youth Alliance for Family Planning), the organisers of the training, said that more needs to be done from all responsible parties if there is to be realisation of sexual reproductive health and rights. “If we look at the law around safe abortion, we see limitations when it comes to implementation. There is also still limited access to family planning services for young people below the age of 18,” he said. The biggest barrier, according to him, is the culture that has for long acted as a barricade in the realisation of these rights. “Rwandans still find it hard to be flexible in understanding Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). You find that because of culture, it is seen as an abomination for a person under 18 to access family planning services. This is hard to understand and it is still the cause of teen pregnancies,” he explained. He added that their focus on youth during this training was for them to front young people in addressing these gaps. “Youth-led organisations need to be at the forefront of these challenges are to be addressed.” Marie-Christine Umuhire, the programme director of Impanuro Girls’ Initiative, noted that access to SRHR information and services in Rwanda is satisfactory for adults where there are now a number of public health facilities and non-government organisations that are disposed to delivering those services free of charge or at a very low cost. But when it comes to adolescents, policies say that it’s strictly not allowed for them to access SRHR services, like family planning when they are not accompanied by parents or their guardians, and this, she said, is quite a challenge. “Well, it’s quite challenging for a girl to ask her mom/dad to take her to the clinic /health centre to get family planning services, for some parents or family members are even against the whole concept of family planning because of their religious beliefs, or the idea of their little ones having sexual intercourse. And the stigma of buying a condom at the pharmacy is still real,” she said. All these factors, Umuhire highlighted, are what lead to many unintended pregnancies, sexual transmitted diseases as well as unsafe abortion among adolescents. According to her, adolescents should be allowed to access SRHR services without being accompanied by parents or other guardians, parents on the other hand should be educated and mobilised on the fact that adolescents should access family planning services. The number of men going for family planning are still low compared to women. There is, hence, need to enhance men’s education about family planning. These were among the recommendations drawn, including the need for affordability of emergency contraceptive pills, easing the procedure it takes to get the services of safe abortion, among other factors. Youth, as well as other participants, commended the need to offer similar trainings to all people working in fields related to SRHR. They also asserted the need to submit drawn recommendations to policymakers and engage the community, mostly men, in these conversations arguing that when it comes to SRHR, all genders should be included.