Adolescent female SRHR advocates speak up



MASERU –  An assemblage of young girls advocating for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) has said that access to modern contraception is crucial to women’s empowerment as it increases their decision-making power and autonomy, individually and within the household. The adolescents say access to contraceptives enables them to plan employment and professional development more efficiently and leads to an improved balance between private and work life. Speaking to Public Eye the group that plans to register an SHRH advocacy body, observed that cultural and social barriers, including cultural norms, gender stereotypes, prejudices and moral stigmas also negatively impact access to contraception and result in a lack of or insufficient knowledge of methods of contraception, their availability and correct use.

“These obstacles affect potential users, particularly women, young and non-married people, discouraging them from seeking contraceptives and advice. “In addition, myths and misconceptions, misrepresenting contraception as unnecessary or potentially harmful, are widespread,” they highlighted. Relebohile Bathobakae, on behalf of the group, said the Covid-19 pandemic has rendered women and girls more vulnerable to violations of their human rights, including gender-based and domestic violence and sexual and reproductive health and rights. Therefore, she argued, SRHR must be prioritised and adequate resources should be allocated. She said achieving access to SRHR is a key component to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 3 and 5, which aim to ensure health and well-being for all as well as gender equality.

She indicated: “Despite investment our country has made in family planning programmes and an increase education, our women are disproportionally deprived of the means to meet their family planning needs, where economic, cultural and geographical disparities that hinder the promotion of family planning also prevent modern contraceptive decision.” The reason why most rural women do not use contraceptives, she continued, is because family planning methods are perceived to have side effects such as excessive bleeding, weight gain or loss and subsequent infertility.

“Some women do not take them because of lack of knowledge, or it is against their cultural norms or spouse refusal. Information like this, leads to governments and health partners to do more by introducing programmes geared towards promoting sexual and reproductive health and engaging men to be the core beneficiaries of such programmes,” she added. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), access to safe, voluntary family planning is a human right, where family planning is central to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and it is a key factor in reducing poverty.

UNFPA says it is a woman’s right to control her future: “Reproductive rights are human rights and access to contraception is one of the primary reproductive health rights.” The fund also indicates that contraception is key to safe and voluntary family planning.  It advances the human rights of people to determine the number and spacing of their children and reduces the rates of unintended pregnancies and the need for unsafe abortions.

“Healthy families are created by choice, not by chance, so contraception is essential for a world where every pregnancy is wanted,” UNFPA elaborates. UNFPA believes accessing information about family planning methods is as important as contraception.Only in early May Lesotho welcomed the Renewed Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) commitment to increase political will and engagement on SRHR related to adolescents and youth in the country.  The commitment followed a SADC member-states’ pledge to improvie SRHR among adolescents and young people, significant gaps and barriers that still exist to realisation of the ESA commitment targets.

Countries that include Botswana, Namibia, eSwatini and South Africa, have contributed to the formation of new laws and policies or review of laws around child marriage and education rights of pregnant women. The short-term targets need to be met by 2025, according to ’Mamofota Kale from the Southern African HIV and Aids Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS). These targets include 95 percent of adolescents and young people to be reached with good quality, age-appropriate, culturally-relevant and evidence-based sexuality education through in and out of school programmes.

“Another target includes adolescent and youth-friendly SRHR services that are integrated into universal health coverages packages,” Kale said. SAfAIDS, with the support of UNESCO, under ‘Secure the Future’ project, is collaborating with civil society groups and youth organisations in the SADC region to increase support for the renewed ESA commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and SRHR services for adolescents and young people that 21 SADC and East African countries made in 2021.

As part of the project, SAfAIDS Lesotho is also mobilising and engaging youth organisations in the country to strengthen meaningful and effective engagement, where a member-states will catalyse the adoption of the renewed commitment to national priorities, policies and laws. The parliament of Lesotho has also recently been commended for its commitment and dedication on the implementation of a SRHR as well as HIV/Aids and governance.

Lesotho was applauded by the SADC Parliamentary Forum, which noted the country’s significant activities under the project – which is viewed as progress and showing dedication in expanding the frontiers of universal access to SRHR, particularly to women and girls, key populations and other sectors of the community. Parliament, through the support of the SADC Parliamentary Forum, has been implementing a project aimed at building the capacity of legislators to advance SRHR legislative efforts and on HIV/Aids beginning 2015.

Its key objectives included the realisation that support was needed to help develop a critical mass of parliamentarians, advocates communities and civil society organisations to drive the HIV and SRHR agenda towards the universal realisation of rights, sustained and effective HIV/Aids interventions and improved programme on governance for the citizens of Lesotho.

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