Sexual justice: The place of women’s sexuality in society

The panelists L-R: Aline Mukundwa, Marianne Mesfin Asfaw and Alice Bayingana.

In matters of sexual health and pleasure, women have, for a long time, only have limited knowledge that’s been passed to them from generation to generation by their foremothers.

Consideration of women's sexuality has often centered on its dangers and difficulties: unintended pregnancy, infections, varying forms of coercion and objectification, and sexual dysfunction. 

This, as a result, has taught them to accept their place of sexuality often perceived as inherently risky and dangerous. 

Growing up in Rwanda, Marianne MesfinAsfaw, a logistics and administrative coordinator at the Association of Women’s Rights Development, witnessed as culture created an imbalance in sexual reproductive health and pleasure that were either silenced or policed.

“Around sex, pleasure and reproductive health, there is a huge silence when it comes to young women and young girls. We don’t talk too much about and that is why we are talking too much about teenage pregnancy.

There are different cultural practices around sex and so many don’ts that either take away the desire to have sex or not have sex. Generally, the trend I have seen is suppressing young women’s desires to explore sexually.

Although that is the trend, I think there is resistance to that trend because young women still have sex and still have these conversations, especially now that there is more information on women’s rights.”

This, she was sharing during a panel discussion on stigmas and myths on sexual politics, health and reproductive justice last week, organised by Sistah Circle Collective, a black feminist and womanist grass roots community dedicated to black women's lives and narratives told through storytelling.

This discussion was a necessary conversation in addressing issues surrounding sexual education, rights justice and liberation and a vital role when fighting for gender equity and building a world where women own their bodies and make informed decisions for themselves.

Alice Bayingana a Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights advocate said that the means in which young people are educated about sexual reproductive health, is driven towards consequences yet it should be comprehensive, informing them about the available contraceptives, while also guaranteeing their confidentiality.

“There is a lot of work currently being done in spreading information on sexual reproductive health but a lot of that work is done in the frame of family planning which does not resonate to anybody who is not planning a family right now.

We need to talk about how to make the decision to have sex because young people are very interested but they don’t get that information.

The best time to teach the youth about sex is before they have sex, giving them all the information and the tools before they even have teenage hormones but also that the education is very comprehensive,” she said.

“A lot of that, for me is because of the fear around conversations about what would happen if you decided to have sex you should be choosing to have sex with and also there is a concept around virginity as a concept and what losing one’s virginity means,” Asfaw added.

Aline Mukundwa, a Gynecologist at World Health Organisation and expert in Sexual Reproductive Health tackled the issue of purity and virginity as perceived by society and the need for consent between partners and individuals as well, saying that nurturing how they show up in relationship is an act of empowerment.

“In the human anatomy, losing one’s virginity only happens with penetration but generally speaking, it doesn’t account for only people who have penetrable sex. In society however, being a virgin means you are a well-raised girl and potential wife because you are trustworthy.

Although culture and religion brought up such beliefs to protect young people from going astray, much of the emphasis is put on the girls ad seems to be harsh towards them. People need to be informed about the reality happening today and how it is affecting young people,” she said.

A participant giving her views during the event. / Courtesy

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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