Teen pregnancy and ban on lobola reception for under 18s

Our country still has high teenage pregnancy rates with the poorer communities within the country being the most affected. According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 20141 24.2 % of women between 15 and 19 years of age had begun child bearing with the rural communities having a higher percentage of 28.7 compared to 14.2% in urban settlements. Early sexual activity has many complications which include increased risk of acquiring sexually transmitted illnesses and HIV and the long term complications from the various diseases for example high risk of cervical cancer in the case of Human Papilloma Virus infection (HPV). Early childbearing is also associated with birth related complications resulting in risk of both maternal and neonatal mortality. Stillbirths and death in the first week of life are 50% higher among babies born to mothers younger than 20 years than among babies born to mothers 20–29 years old.2

The government is trying to come up with a lot of measures and interventions to discourage early marriages and are working on laws which might arrest recipients of lobola for under eighteen women. Teenage pregnancy is a contributor to early marriages. What happens to an adolescent who falls pregnant? What options are available for them? Medical abortion is illegal in such circumstances, will this promote unsafe abortions? Adoption is an alternative but consider the number of children already in need of adoption.  What if her family abandons her? At least the family now has to find ways of accepting their new reality which is a welcome development as long as it does not expose the survivor to exploitation. Progressive and usually privileged families have usually not forced their pregnant teens into marriage. They have been supportive and ensured their daughters became independent enough to care for their own children. Some young mothers have also not been deprived of an education or pursuit of their dreams.

However in majority of teen pregnancy cases, the girls are affected more than the boys. Both are expelled if they go to the same school. I consider expulsion to be unnecessary and might complicate affected people’s lives more. Expulsion disrupts their access to education and is retrogressive as far as empowering the young parent is concerned.  In most cases the boy’s life continues as normal and the girl is pulled out of school. Even if she stays in school there is stigma associated with being pregnant. I am an advocate for comprehensive sexual and reproductive education and easier access to contraception for adolescents but it seems to be a very controversial topic in our community which will need a lengthy discussion on its own.

One of the many reasons pregnant women were forced to elope was to avoid raising a “bastard”, single parenthood and the associated stigma. Eloping also forced the father of the child to be responsible for his actions. In light of new developments which might prevent pregnant teenagers from forced marriages what measures will be there for the custody of the child? Traditionally in such cases the man responsible for the pregnancy had to pay a fine termed “damage” and lobola. How will the cultural practices complement, affect or be affected by a law banning receiving lobola for an under eighteen young girl? Will a case of a pregnant teen be exempted from the law and what will be the implications of such in preventing forced marriages? I hope all these questions will stimulate constructive dialogue.

Could stigma associated with single parenthood be an unintended consequence of such a law? “Single mothers” are victims of stigma associated with single parenthood. They are labelled promiscuous, prostitutes and the abused term “mvana”. Mvana is a term used to refer to unmarried women who has/had a child or children. I assume it was meant to be just a descriptive term but has now become a discriminatory label laden with stigma. Our society places a lot of focus on women virginity and sexual purity another flaw in the paternalistic gender story. The prejudice and stereotypes might negatively affect her future including marriage and expose her to discrimination.

We need to address the root causes and confront gender disparities that promote the above stigma. Getting pregnant should not destroy a young woman’s dream or be the beginning of an emotional turmoil. This is when family and community support is needed for the young mother to adjust to the changes instead of alienating her. Ideally we should empower young women to become parents when they choose and are ready through comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education and easier access to contraception. 4 % of young men and 4.1 % of young women had sex before the age of 15. 58.7% of young women and 46.0 % of young men between the age of 15 and 24 years had ever had sex1. We should therefore change attitudes of contraception being for married people and address the need by sexually active unmarried young people. Young people should be allowed to make informed decisions and denying them access to information and contraception is violating their sexual rights.

 

 

  1. Zimbabwe Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2014 Final Report March 2015
  2. who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/topics/maternal/adolescent_pregnancy/en/
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Adventures of JJ…

My hometown brings a lot of great memories and stimulates an irresistible urge for an adventure. I decided cycle on our old “hybrid” ram-shackled bicycle which can potentially attract all possible tickets and fines from the police, a Frankenstein of my brother’s reusing creativity. It’s a fusion of all the bicycles we ever had plus a few adopted parts. I packed my water bottle, camera and thick book then road to a nearby dam just outside the city.

As I came closer to the dam I met a lovely young woman in her late teens. She was carrying a dish full of laundry  on her head with a baby on her back and two infants the younger tagging on  her skirt .The oldest of about five years of age was chatting away leading the young family to a nearby farming settlement. At the dam more young women were doing laundry with a few infants running around. Were they  teen parents? Men were fishing and some bathing or swimming on the opposite side of the dam. My intention was to enjoy the beautiful sounds of nature in a tranquil environment but my mind could not ignore what i was seeing.  Such situations make me subconsciously introspect and consider my privilege and how i can fight any prejudice and stereotypes I might harbor.

I am against marrying off adolescent girls a practice commonly termed child marriages.it is a gross violation of the affected child’s rights and is form of sexual abuse. I have used any opportunity possible to speak out against it. Girls are the main victims of such a practice usually being married off to older men. It is a manifestation of a deep rooted infirmity in our society;poverty.

My sisters had the privilege of deciding when to get married partly  because of their relatively well provided for backgrounds. Our parents considered education to be a right and  priority  and could afford to send us to school. School occupied at least more than sixteen years of our lives. After primary and secondary school the focus was on career or skills development for them to achieve a certain level of independence. Marriage was not deemed as the way out .There was no pressure from their respective parents to marry them off because the parents could provide for them. The same applied to most of my friends. They come from relatively privileged backgrounds and could afford to dream. However we seem not to realize how our privilege has cushioned us from some social problems.

I used to consider victims of child marriages to be from ignorant backgrounds because I could never think of my parents ever doing that to my sister. I always viewed such victims with pitiful eyes and had immense anger at their families.  All I had was just a superficial assumption of their predicament. A glimpse of what seemed to be a victim’s life made me reconsider my ignorant uninformed prejudiced view. It was clear their quality of life was below most urban settlements ironically just a stone throw away. Each day their struggle was to make ends meet and  education was a luxury  with the daily priority being getting food on the table. The relatively more privileged envied males in their community could easily exploit such girls with a few gifts to the family which because of need were heartily welcome. The cycle of poverty continued.

Some girls deprived of an education are groomed to be brides and as soon a suitor comes along the family will accept the bride price for that temporary provision and relief. The real enemy here is poverty and the inequality it brings.  It is the common thing you find in countries and communities with high rates of child marriages. We welcome recent developments in law and policy to fight such an evil practice but we know our country is not immune from partial law enforcement and corruption. This cannot guarantee protection of our girls from exploitation because many cases can still go unreported. What happens after arresting the parents or guardians ? Does it improve the socio-economic status of the family that pushed them to marry off their child? We need to actively fight poverty  because this will address a lot of social problems  stemming  from it. It is sad how inequalities in our societies are worsening each day with the usually political elite getting richer and the poor masses, poorer.

Patriarchy is another important issue that needs to be focused on in curbing exploitation of the girl child because of its role in promoting gender related inequalities. Unfortunately extreme forms of patriarchy, religion and culture are dominant in poorer communities because of reduced access to education and information. Unequal access to resources, poor governance and other factors that contribute to poverty also contribute to exploitation of the girl child.

Teenage pregnancies need to be addressed. The girl child has to be informed and empowered. We need to write a new gender story for the contemporary dynamic society. I cherish and embrace progressive elements of our culture but  we have to let go of retrogressive exploitative practices. This cannot be achieved in our air conditioned well lit and catered for offices or even behind our laptops and smart phone screens. We need to be part of the community and involve ourselves in participatory action research. Our privilege makes us fall in a different but equally retrogressive form of ignorance, one we constantly accuse the developed world of when they talk of developing countries.

Why i am a feminist………

Why I am a feminist/humanist

My first encounter with feminism was at a “Breaking barriers empowering young women to participate in democratic politics” workshop organised by the Young Women African Leaders Movement in partnership with the British Council Movers and Shakers. The facilitator was Nemata Majeks-Walker, Founder and the first president of 50/50 Group of Sierra Leone a non-partisan organisation, advocating and campaigning for  increased political participation and equal representation of women in decision-making processes and initiatives at all levels in Sierra

At the workshop we sang a song with the words side by side, no longer men in front and the women at the back but women and men side by side. What we were simply advocating for is creating a political environment that allows at least 50% female participation by breaking barriers created by the predominantly patriarchal political environment. Though I was a participant at the workshop I did not understand what feminism was all about and propagated the stereotypes surrounding that identity. I believed in equality of women but was not convicted to advocate for it nor did I see the need.

Fast forward a couple of years later I was privileged to be part of the African Dream Leadership Forum. There were only two male participants surrounded by intelligent, innovative and inspirational young women leaders. Interactions with them opened up a new perspective of the untapped potential of young Zimbabwean and African women. I imagined how much impact they will have in our society if they were not to be discriminated on the basis of their gender. I then got into an interesting discussion with one critical thinker who is now a lawyer about the negative connotation surrounding the term feminism. She then asked me one simple question which concluded the whole argument and made me realise my ignorance. She asked if I thought women were equal and deserve equal opportunities. I hesitantly said yes and then she labelled me a feminist. At that moment I felt a bit insulted because of my perception of that identity and my association of it with women.  I then questioned my reaction and if it meant that I viewed women as inferior and used the term in a derogatory way. That was the beginning of a journey in trying to understand the privilege I have as a male and why there was the so called feminist movement.

Early this year I joined fellow health students and professionals from across the globe in Gulu, Northern Uganda. We spent a month looking beyond the biological basis of disease in a Social Medicine Course run by SocMed Global. I got to get an international perspective of women rights, gender equality and equity which cemented my belief that women deserved more. I realised how gender related discrimination and violence were risk factors to poor health outcomes and influenced health seeking behaviour of women. I then decided to reflect the impact of gender inequality in my life and community.

Image from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/11825684/Can-men-be-feminists-too-please.html.

As a brother I am a feminist because I believe my sisters are amazing intelligent women who deserve to realize their potential. I see great leaders in them and women of great influence. I believe most of them are even more superior than I am in intellect and the sky is the limit if we were to dismantle the barriers they face in our communities.

As an uncle and future parent I am a feminist because I want to help create a safe and secure environment for my nieces and future daughters. I do not want them to live in fear of being sexually harassed or abused. I want them to be able to express themselves and exercise their freedoms without being limited by their gender. I want them to compete with my nephews and sons in an environment where being of a female gender will not be considered as  a disadvantage.

As a health professional I am a feminist because I believe empowerment of women is essential in realizing a healthy and prosperous nation. If women are more informed and have power concerning their health especially reproductive health we will definitely see a decline in maternal mortality rates. I am firmly against child marriages because it is a form of social captivity and gender based abuse for the child and gross violation of their rights as children. Child marriages stem from a patriarchal belief system of viewing young girls as inferior and their sole purpose being to eventually be married and bear children.  Hence the need to change mind-sets and perception of women and pushing for gender equity that will help speed up their empowerment and help overcome the barriers they face.

As a male I am a feminist because in partnership with women, I have responsible in helping create an environment safe them. I should stand up to my fellow men and discourage sexism. This sounds extremely chauvinist and might get all knives out but the truth is we need to work together as man and women to create a generation which will end problems relating to gender discrimination. I am not a woman and will never fully empathize with them actually that’s almost impossible. I might know of their struggles but will not fully understand them because of the privilege I currently have as a male. I therefore am at risk of underplaying their struggles. Women know what is  ideal for them and the least I can do is be supportive instead of being a hindrance. According to my dictionary a Feminist is a person who supports the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. I support Chimamanda Ngozie’s suggestion that We should all be feminist.

unexpected syphilis strikes humanity

tnstuart

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infection (STIs) are infections that may result in a disease affecting the genital system. They are mainly passed from one person to another during sexual intercourse or any contact between the genitals including those of an already infected person. The name STI is associated with infections and STD is associated with diseases. STI is often used because they are some organisms such as chlamydia that can infect a person without causing the actual disease thus STI. A person may not have the symptoms that shows the disease but still has an infection that still needs to be treated.

Basing on current understanding of syphilis, it can be called both STI and STD. It is a bacterial infection caused by Treponama pallidium. Morphologically, T.pallidium is spiral shaped and has ability to barrow through skin. It shows the symptoms of infection (thus disease) as the…

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Hopley

Sistas, Sex and Politics

After a 30 minute drive away from Harare Central Business District, along Old Chitungwiza Road, the car finally slows down. The day is getting hot, and we are cramped in the car so that everyone from the office would get the chance to come along to today’s meeting at Hopley. The car stops, and as we are getting out of the vehicle we are met with familiar smiling faces, and warm hugs that are so very welcome, even in the blazing heat. The smiling faces belong to the facilitators of today’s meeting: Fortunate, Alice and Tracy. They are locals at the area, and as well as managing and executing the meetings, they also do the recruiting of participants. For every time we meet we get to know each other better, and it is with a growing admiration and fondness I regard our new friends. After the greetings, they lead the way to…

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The yet to be told story of HIV..

We have made progress in our journey with HIV and AIDS. It used to be an enemy we fought battles against .We managed to weaken HIV but not completely conquer it. It has become a part of our lives and still has some negative impact in our societies.  Anti-retro-viral drugs have changed everything for the better and HIV is no longer a death sentence and people can live their lives to the fullest.

The face of HIV has also changed in Africa. It’s no longer the image of a wasted hopeless victim but we now have survivors who are victors. However society still needs to address a lot of prejudices surrounding HIV and AIDS. Adverts on HIV still feature adult married people talking about living positively or discordant couples. This is a reality of HIV but just one side of the story.

What about the story of the rejected HIV positive young person regardless of how they got infected? How does a young man explain to his classmates why he could not get circumcised after they were motivated to go for circumcision as a group? Will the young girl who acquired HIV at birth have “normal” relationships, eventually marriage and children? How will the primary school child on a school trip explain to her friends why she has to take a pill at set times every day? I commend the progress we have made in our fight against stigma but HIV is still revolving around that taboo act we love doing but do not like talking about called sexual intercourse. As a result some infected adolescents are sometimes forced not to disclose their status because of stigma and the image of HIV being an immoral adult disease. We are circumcising young man and children for sexually related reasons and yet limit how much they have to know about sex and HIV by denying them access to comprehensive sex education, condoms and contraception.

Are people aware of a possibility to be in a relationship or marry a person of a different HIV status and still maintain your status? Full disclosure and access to information are steps towards making it possible. We should not stop preaching prevention of new infections but we should also look into integrating people living with HIV especially young people into our society. Let their voice be heard and troubles known. Let them share their dreams, hopes and fears. Let us do away with stereotypes and prejudices surrounding HIV and sexual intercourse. This means changing the perception or mind-set of the HIV positive as having brought it upon themselves.