By Oswald Agwu
Effective and unbiased communication has been identified as key in promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls in Nigeria.
This position was part of the concensus arising from a one-day introductory and consultative meeting with Southeast stakeholders on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of women and girls.
The meeting organized by Alliances for Africa (AFA), a nongovernmental organization was held Thursday in Enugu, Southeast Nigeria. It was part of AFA’s Sexual/ Reproductive Health and Rights awareness project, supported by Open Society Foundations.
Participants drawn from Enugu, Anambra and Ebonyi States included representatives of Civil Society Organizations, traditional rulers, relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government and the Media, among others.
Similar meetings had earlier been held by the organization in Imo and Abia States.
Participants at the meeting were in concensus that using real, unambiguous terminologies and names while communicating with children, young people and adolescents about issues around their sexuality would better enhance their understanding and awareness of their sexual and reproductive rights, as well as equip them better for healthy behaviours.
Most stakeholders frowned at the development where parents use symbolic names in pointing their children to their sexual organs, arguing that such actions obscure the real essence of sex education thereby rendering the young people, especially girls vulnerable to misinformation and deceit.
The program Manager for Alliances for Africa, Mrs Blessing Duru in a presentation, observed that part of the challenges inhibiting proper communication of SRHR issues in Africa lies in upbringing and socialization where such issues are deliberately, but erroneously mystified.
She emphasized that sexual and reproductive health and rights challenges of present times makes it imperative to always call a spade, a spade in order to avoid misconceptions.
Duru explained: “Most people don’t see SRHR communication as very key element in creating awareness and education.
“People shy away from calling some parts of the body by the name we should know them due to several factor: one is the way we are raised.
“In the early 60s and 70s, sexual and reproductive rights challenges were not as enormous as they are now, and as someone who do a lot of work around violence against women and girls, we have seen that, how we communicate these subjects to our children is also important for them to know what the exact name is, and not the name we have chosen, either because we are shy or feel that when a child begins to name it as it is, it depicts lack of proper home training.
“These are misconceptions around the issue.
“Knowledge is all about what something actually is, not what you feel it should be.
“We encourage parents to pass accurate information to their children: a male has his own sex organ and the female has hers, and they all have our native name of referring to them as well as the English version.
“That is what should be communicated to our children so that they know exactly what you mean and what is being said.”
One of the participants from Ebonyi State, Goodness Mgbaja, in an interview, insisted that adolescent girls and women should be allowed unhindered access to sexual and reproductive health information and services in health facilities, adding that such would offer them the needed opportunity to share their challenges freely, as well as receive adequate professional information and care for their secured future.
Mgbaja who is a program officer with the Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre (CIRDDOC) Nigeria, commended AFA and Open Society Foundations for the intiative, pledging to further advance the message through her Organization.
Earlier, the Program officer for AFA, Lillian Ibeh, explained that the objective of the meeting was to ensure that stakeholders have better understanding of SRHR and their roles in addressing it. She added that the meeting was to also get buy-in, Commitment and concensus of stakeholders to mainstream SRHR in their activities.
Ibeh who further observed that women and girls access to both SRHR information and services, including contraceptives is very poor especially in the Southeast, noted that the project was motivated by the need to bridge the gap.
She added: “Alliances for Africa is a feminist -led nongovernmental human rights, peace and sustainable development organization that works to preserve, protect and promote human rights, particularly the rights of women and girls.
“Our thematic areas include peace building, ending Gender-Based Violence and policy work around issues bordering on the rights of women and girls, among others.”
Meanwhile, the participants in a group work identified some of the bottlenecks associated with mainstreaming SRHR to include lack of adequate, functional laws and policies, limited sources of information, cultural and traditional inhibitions, ignorance, among others.
They prescribed the involvement of traditional institutions, Women groups, educational bodies, religious organizations, government institutions, policy makers and the media in strategic advocacy for increased concern towards women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights.