“It is said that “Knowledge is not permission”, but it may protect, whereas ignorance cannot – no one can make a responsible, let alone a wise decision from ignorance.It is sad to note that these days children are left to discover their sexuality through their peers, and are thus left to absorb and perpetuate the myths, misconceptions, and incorrect attitudes of past generations.”
On the 17th of October 2021, the Singamakhalipha program of Africa Unite held a dialogue with learners from diverse backgrounds in Cape Town and surrounding areas. The dialogue formed part of a youth summit organized by the School Club program of Africa Unite which aimed to highlight issues affecting learners. The event was held at Tshisamani in Mowbray from 10 am to 4 pm was attended by 18 Learners.
One of the issues we have noticed through our work with young people is that there is a lack of education on sexual and reproductive health for our youth. The dialogue with the learners highlighted the issue of adolescents’ pregnancies that has recently sparked conversation in South Africa. Early and unwanted pregnancies are sometimes a result of not having access to information that will allow a young person to make an informed decision. During the youth summit, the Singamakhalipha social worker presented a section on sexual and reproductive health. The discussion highlighted an issue of period poverty that young girls from disadvantaged backgrounds are faced with. Moreover, participants echoed that they often do not feel comfortable discussing concerns regarding menstruation with their parents. One participant shared how she missed her menstrual cycle for two months and was scared to share this information with her mother because she feared that her mother would think she was pregnant. She was happy to have her period again but did not know the reason it stopped. Another participant shared that, nurses in public facilities do not make it any easier for them to access information on matters such as menstrual cycles and contraception. The group, which mostly consisted of young women all agreed that nurses show a judgmental attitude towards young girls who volunteer to use contraceptives as a preventative measure. They are even more judgmental to young girls who present to clinics already pregnant, without even knowing all the facts. One participant lashed out “what if that girl was raped? Now she is judged unfairly”.
The group proposed some solutions to the challenges faced by young girls in society. One solution was that schools needed to have a designated person to deal with matters around sexual and reproductive health and sexuality. This would help adolescents make more informed decisions and would prevent stereotypes, myths, and misconceptions. Another solution was for parents to also receive training on the above subjects so that young people can feel more comfortable discussing matters of concern with them. Lastly, the group agreed that more workshops could be organized but they should include young men as well. One learner said that “it is useless to empower young girls and leave young men out”. She further explained that both girls and boys should be empowered through education to achieve an improvement in attitudes and behavior of young people.
As Africa Unite, we would like to thank the iamforherfoundation for their generous contribution of 1200 units of free sanitary towels. These sanitary towels were handed out during the summit to young community activists in their respective areas who know of young women who need these. More will be handed out to young women in informal settlements around Gugulethu.