When Reproductive Health is discussed, the people usually associate it with the topic are mothers, family planning and medical officers. Let us however focus our attention on adolescent girls’ and the impact educating them would have in solving Reproductive Health (RH) related challenges.
As the Rwandan government and entire community consider Family Planning and standard reproductive health to tackle the issue of population growth, pregnancy related complications, child bearing and child care, the first option would be considering adolescent girls’ education for a reason or two, it is key to good Reproductive Health.
28 year old Velonique Kabihogo is a house wife and mother of six. Her education was interrupted when she got married in Primary three at the tender age of 17. When asked if she would consider using a family planning method, she said she would have to talk to her husband about whether they really needed it or not.
Kabihogo explains “It is God who gives us the children and has the powers to bring them up. We can have many and they all live, or if some die we will be able to remain with some.
But family planning would also be good because every thing is expensive these days yet our children need school fees, clothes and food.” She also said that although there is not enough food and everything for the children, the children would live.
Jane Ugwaneza 32, a university graduate who married four years ago and a mother of one, says she might only bear one more child and conclude the deal. She explains that she longs to have a daughter, but that cannot make her continue giving birth.
She asserts that, the more she gives birth the more she risks her life because there are many dangers involved in child birth. She also points out that they will have few children for them to go to good schools and live quality life.
“The more children one has, the more it becomes a burden on parents because children demand a lot, which would be hard to fulfill in case one has many children,” Ugwaneza explained.
There have been recognizable changes in last 20 years where on average, ladies marry later, delay childbearing longer and have fewer children. There is still a lot to be done throughout the country and worldwide.
Elaine Murphy, a health expert asserts: “girls’ RH risks are linked to low levels of education, which perpetuates; high fertility, poverty, poor nutrition and reduced access to health care”. The worry is, this does not only affect the person and her family, but also her community and strains the national economy.
Murphy explains the vicious cycle of lack of education for girls as: low enrolment in secondary school leading to early marriage, then to frequent childbearing, to high infant/child mortality and poverty. It repeats in the next generation.
She says education makes a difference, virtuous circle being: high enrolment in secondary school, which leads to informed and healthier mothers, leading to fewer, healthier children, participation in community and jobs. The same repeats in the next generation.
Education changes girls by enabling them to acquire skills, psychological empowerment, higher expectations for self and others, creating autonomy and respect. Murphy appreciates the current school enrolment rates for girls and boys, saying that it has risen dramatically, even in secondary schools.
She says that there are still challenges encountered by teen girls as they face high risks: pregnancy complications, a leading cause of death, adding that their babies are far less likely to survive than babies born to women in their 20s and later.
She asserts that sexually active teen girls are more vulnerable to HIV especially because only 35 percent use modern family planning methods, and in the same age group, there are also high levels of unwanted pregnancy.
Studies show that use of family planning methods among teen girls is as low as 20 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa, 24 percent for Central America & Caribbean, 28 percent in South America and 20 percent in South Asia.
Married adolescent girls are more vulnerable to HIV if their husbands become infected, they are also more likely to be victims of domestic violence and more likely to have unwanted pregnancies.
Murphy also asserts: “Some of the problems encountered by girls are, that they are needed to work at home, lack of school fees and lack of good jobs, to mention but a few.”
She suggested some solutions which include: to award financially needy girls scholarships, safe transportation, programmes to address gender inequity –in schooling and jobs and set-asides for women in government.
There is also need to expand RH education in formal settings, increase literacy and other skills of out-of-school girls ands women, expand youth-friendly RH services, encouraging media coverage of the issues and providing employment opportunities for educated young women.