It is exactly five years now that I set out on this journey of empowering young girls and women in my community with the right skills needed to take charge of their reproductive health and rights, using my NGO “STELLAMARIS LIFE FOUNDATION “ as a platform. It has been five years of joy, happiness, tears and sorrow. I have experienced my uplifting moments and discouraging times as well.
Many obstacles have stood in my way of creating change in my community. These challenges are many and hard to break down. They are cultural, religious and economic barriers.
CULTURAL-In my community, discussions of sexuality are still seen as a taboo and considered indecent for girls and women. Throughout their lives, women are expected to bear suffering and humiliation in silence. Right from the cradle, this is the life to which young girls are indoctrinated. Women sacrifice a lot to keep the sanctity of marriage to avoid rebuke and dishonour and the disgrace of divorce. While for women to engage in extramarital relationships is a taboo, men who do so are considered virile. Fear of beating and rape keeps many women from questioning their husband’s sexual escapades.
The most shocking is the practice of Female Genital Mutilation [FGM], which is enforced as a check on women’s promiscuity and most times carried out by local physicians using unsterilized instruments. The health implications need not be spelt out.
RELIGION-Traditional religion which is predominant in my community allows polygamy and women cannot expect fidelity from their husbands. Even Christianity while emphasizing marital fidelity and monogamy, expects the submission of women to their husbands.
ECONOMIC-Despite the codes of conduct indoctrinated into women in my community, many still live the precarious and dangerous life of sex work. The prime reason is a pressure even greater than culture and religion; economic pressures. Girls are forced into prostitution to escape poverty. Their choice is a stark one: die of starvation now or run a high risk of contracting AIDS and dying few years on. Their route for survival becomes an instrument of death.
In order to arrest the situation, my NGO makes use of advocacy, community sensitization, outreaches, seminars and skills acquisition programmes for young girls and women. These have yielded some positive results like a reduction in male dominance, removal of the secrecy surrounding sexual issues and replacing them with information and education. Women are been empowered to make decisions about their own bodies and encouraged to resist religious, cultural and economic pressures to engage in unwanted sexual relationships and provided with means of taking care of their needs.
Within a short time of using PULSE WIRE, I have discovered great tools and resources to help in my fight against these challenges. I have made friends and building a strong and vibrant network, which will help in my work and serve to eradicate the regressive pulls on women. My knowledge is been built and I no longer see them as barriers but as STEPPING STONES TO MY SUCCESS.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future Application: Challenges and Solutions to Creating Change.