Getting ” real” about teenage pregnancy in Rwanda. What can we do?

A few months ago, New Times published an article about teenage pregnancy in Rwanda. Since then, there is no week that passes by without getting more depressing statistics about teen pregnancy in schools in many districts around the country. Time and time again, instead of addressing the real issues, our culture have found ways to blame young girls. The harsh stigma that teenage moms face during and after pregnancy is concerning.

The harsh treatment goes from dropping out of schools, abandonment from friends and family, just to name a few. We already knew about this issue, why have we failed to address the real problems? Of all schools, you would expect a school like FAWE to know better about how to treat women with dignity and respect they deserve.

It does not make sense that FAWE girls school does not support young girls whose have been failed by our culture of lack of education with regards to sexuality and reproductive health.

Some of FAWE Rwanda students during a recent a mentorship program. Courtesy: New Times.

I have been wanting to write about what needs to be done about this issue. Lucky for me, I came across Katie Carlson post on facebook. She broke down all issues at hand and could not help but to share her ideas. In the end, this is ongoing problem. Instead of letting it go, we need to talk about it and find ways forward to making sure that the youth of Rwanda are supported, regardless of their situation. Our cultural norms need a reality check with regards to teenage pregnancy in this country.

To read more, read the following post by Katie Carlson Post on Facebook.

You wanna know what causes teen pregnancy? It’s not girls just being “loose” or immoral as so many people seem to love to claim, to avoid taking responsibility for the larger problems driving it. It’s gender norms, gender norms, gender norms, and the cultural taboo around speaking about sex and reproductive health. It is a profound failure of adults, and yet we almost never acknowledge this. Girls have sex for many reasons, but the main question we need to be asking in terms of teen pregnancy is, why are they having *unprotected* sex? And the answer is three-fold.

First, girls say they feel they MUST have sex with a boy in order to keep his interest and for him to “continue to love me” – and even if they are aware that they should use condoms, the boy will refuse because sex doesn’t feel as good with a condom, and sex without a condom will really prove she loves him. The number one theme that has emerged in recent months from my own research into this problem is the ABSOLUTE NEED TO KEEP THE BOY AT ALL COSTS. If this means having sex without wanting to, or having consensual sex without a condom, in most cases, she will do it.

This is a direct result of gender norms – of girls being raised to see boys as more powerful, more valuable, more capable than they are, and to believe that to have a boy’s attention and validation is the ultimate goal in life, particularly in those teenage years when emotional, physical and psychological developmental influences are in overdrive.

The second driver is financial vulnerability – girls expect to be able to offer sex as currency, in transactional situations, even with their own consensual boyfriends. If a girl faces violence in her home, she may be able to rely on her boyfriend to take her in and in return, she will have sex with him – and since he is “doing her a favour” by allowing her to live with him, she must pay him in sex and cannot insist on condom use. If a girl needs something in life, even very basic needs, she doesn’t first focus on how she can meet her own needs (and she may not even have the support from any corner to make her own money, etc.), instead she considers how she can have her needs met through a boy or a man who has money. Because gender norms teach girls to think that money and financial independence is the remit of men – and that a girl’s body is an acceptable form of currency that she can or must trade in exchange for other needs. Girls AND boys are socialized to believe these things from a very young age. Further – even when girls know they should use a condom, they cannot bear to be seen buying them at a local shop – the community will ostracize them, and men who see them purchasing condoms then proceed to sexually harass them and imply that the girl should be having sex with him, too. Boys can buy condoms and people expect that boys are having sex – but girls? No, no. Girls must remain hidden, virgins until marriage, and to have any sexual desire or interest at all is repulsive and immoral. What absolute sexist nonsense.

The third key issue is adults being uncomfortable with talking about sex – what I consider to be a profound failure on the part of adults who know better and yet will not educate the youth. Even when girls know they are at risk if they don’t use condoms, they struggle to access true and accurate information about sex in order to protect themselves. Parents don’t want to discuss, and neither do teachers. So what happens then? Myths abound. Girls are told that condoms will slip off and stay in your body unless you have surgery to remove them – and if don’t have them removed, they will cause cancer and kill you. Girls are told these things and they believe them – because no one else who is well informed is willing to speak to them about it. The assumption that speaking to young people about sex will provoke them to have sex is patently false – and has been proven in various different bits of research around the world. In fact, speaking to young people about sex demystifies the whole idea of sex, and allows them to find answers to their questions in a safe way, rather than having to resort to sexual activity before they are ready to satisfy their curiousity and understand this thing that no one is willing to tell them about. To not speak to young people about sex leaves them in a void of misinformation and confusion, and opens them up to vastly more risks and possible exploitation – and it directly contributes to teen pregnancy.

Adults – I know it’s awkward, I know it maybe wasn’t done when you were a kid, but please look at the reality of TODAY and understand that you are condemning young people to serious risks and vulnerabilities, especially girls, that will affect their entire lives, if you do not get over your discomfort and speak with them honestly and openly – and base your behaviours and attitudes on real evidence, not fears, taboos and misinformation. Stop blaming girls, stop avoiding responsibility for the problem that you are instrumental in creating and perpetuating.

Source: Katie Carlson Post on Facebook.

In the end, as a people and as a culture, we have to admit that we cannot prevent teenagers from sexual intercourse. If we can provide adequate sex education and reproductive health training, we can reverse the trend. Otherwise, we are failing the youth and the future of our nation. It is a no brainer that teenage pregnancy is on the rise, according to this recent survey. We need to change our attitude towards this problem. Fellow Rwandans, what is your opinion? Share in the comments.

Published by Didier Champion

Didier Champion is a Rwandan blogger. I love telling stories and writing about Rwanda. I was born and raised in Rwanda. I speak 3 languages. Kinyarwanda, English, and French. From Rwanda (my home country), to the United States (my adoptive country), and Europe, where I am currently working, I take the Rwandan and African pride with me. I am a Rwandan Pan-Africanist who love sharing African stories. Although I am a trained Energy Engineer, my passion is in business and entrepreneurship. My topics about Africa focuses on an aid-free Africa relying on trade, tourism, innovation, and technology. I dream about a self-reliant Africa whose financial freedom is unshakeable. An Africa that consumes what It produces & produces what it consumes. I love traveling across Africa, exploring the beauty of our continent and learning about how to make it in Africa. I am always encouraged by the African Youth with same dreams and aspirations. For more, follow me on twitter and follow this blog to stay in touch. Thank you Didier

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