Reproductive Healthcare in SenegalThe country of Senegal has made major strides over the past 10 years for access and care in women’s reproductive and maternal health. Here are some initiatives and four recent centers that have opened to provide women with reproductive healthcare in Senegal in both rural and urban settings.

Reproductive Healthcare Barriers for Senegalese Women

Senegal’s healthcare system is not free to the public. If one does not have the funds to pay for their needed care, they are refused treatment. With more than 50% of Senegal’s population in poverty, only 32.5% of births are performed with a healthcare professional, making the maternal death rate one in 61 women.

Senegalese women are averaged to have at least four children, which is often a result of early forced marriage and the patriarchal family structure. Young women are limited from attaining an education, inhibiting their ability to gain knowledge and power over their reproductive and maternal health.

Over 77% of Senegalese women who desire sexual contraception such as birth control, do not have access to that resource. This has led to unplanned pregnancies for women 20 years old and younger. Additionally, most young women do not receive sexual education in school or at home. This results in less than a third of women in Senegal having a comprehensive understanding of HIV/AIDs or how to protect themselves from such diseases. Government initiation and non-profit organizations are improving these statistics. More women in Senegal are receiving resources and education for their reproductive healthcare.

The Maputo Protocol

Before the 2000s, there was no access to national government or international organizations’ reproductive health for Senegalese women. In 2005 Senegal signed the agreement of the African Charter of Human Rights and Rights of Women, known as the Maputo Protocol, declaring Senegalese women’s reproductive health to be a “universal human right” that must be protected. Following the Maputo Protocol, the Senegalese healthcare system began providing contraception as well as pregnancy and STI testing for women over the age of 15.

4 Centers and Initiatives for Women’s Reproductive Healthcare in Senegal

  1. Keur Djiguene Yi Center: The Keur Djuguene Yi Center is the first public OBGYN clinic in Dakar, Senegal that provides complete reproductive and maternal care to women who cannot afford or have access to government-provided healthcare options. Opening its doors in 2017 with the help of Dr. Faye, the lead gynecologist on-site, more women than ever before in Senegal now have access to pre and post-natal exams, “education on contraception, HIV prevention, family planning and infant immunization,” free of cost. Dr. Faye has been consciously expanding on the center, adding another full-time gynecologist in 2019. She hopes to expand the center to operate at full capacity with an entire team of OBGYN professionals to help four times the number of patients the Keur Djiguene Yi Center services currently.

  1. VOICES mHealth Program: The World Health Organization partnered with the Voices project, created an initiative for reproductive and maternal awareness in Senegal. The VOICEmHealth Program uses voice messages to spread the word about openings of women’s healthcare centers as well as education on maternal care and child-feeding practices. The project works with Bajenu Gox, known as “community godmothers,” to extend the amount of knowledge and power for young women through home visits and information on their healthcare during and after their pregnancy to reach women who do not have access to a cellular device. Voices mHealth program is a highly effective project in its ability to have immediate, trusted contact with Senegalese women living in both rural and urban communities.

  1. Le Korsa: Le Korsa is a nonprofit organization that empowers communities and healthcare centers in Senegal to improve their provided healthcare with grants and educational resources. One of the organization’s most impactful recent projects was in 2017 when Le Korsa began the renovation of the Tambacounda Hospital’s Maternity and Pediatric Units. The project is expected to finish in 2021, providing more enhanced and comfortable care to the 47,000 annual visitors.

  1. Bajenu Gox Project — Action Et Developpement: The Action Et Developpement organization in Senegal has made major strides in having increased community inclusion and education on women’s healthcare with a global lense. Partnering with the Bajenu Gox of the Kaolack, Fatick, Saint Louis, Louga and Dakar regions in 2015, the Bajenu Gox project has brought new, needed knowledge to rural and urban Senegal. The Bajenu Gox in these locations are now trained on how to talk about the prevention of  STI’s and HIV/AIDs in their local communities. They are bringing a new wave of education to young women and forever changing the empowerment of women in Senegal through awareness of their rights.

With the remarkable breakthroughs in women’s reproductive healthcare in Senegal, women now have access to centers and initiatives. The foundation for a new perspective, action and approach towards the autonomy of a women’s health and reproductive system in Senegal is now able to grow and flourish.

– Nicolettea Daskaloudi

Photo: Flickr

5 Facts About Women’s Rights in Togo
Togo is a small country in West Africa. Like other developing countries, many people in Togo have made the realization that gender equality and women’s rights would lead to a thriving, more prosperous community. Although recognizing the issue is a crucial and necessary step, actions are needed to see real change. This article examines 5 facts about women’s rights in Togo.

5 Facts About Women’s Rights in Togo

  1. In 2007, Togo adopted a law that prohibits sexual assault, early and forced marriage, exploitation, female genital mutilation and sexual harassment. Yet, women are still lacking in information and education when it comes to their rights, which means marital rape and domestic violence are still common in Togo regardless of the law.
  2. There is a 10-day national conference held every year in Togo called the Women’s Wellness and Empowerment Conference (WWEC). The conference brings women leaders from across Togo together. The Peace Corps’ goal for the WWEC is to empower women, advocate gender equality and education and encourage the community to engage with one another.
  3. For women, there is a substantial drop in literacy rates from primary education (72 percent) to secondary education (14 percent). One of the reasons for this extremely high drop-out rate is because of early pregnancies. The high number of early pregnancies is because sex education, contraceptives and family-planning are all non-existent in Togo, making it extremely difficult for women to take charge of their bodies and futures.
  4. According to the World Bank’s country report, women lack economic opportunities and are rarely represented in high-level positions. This hurts society as a whole. The International Labour Organization stated that more female participation in the workforce would result in faster economic growth. Although there is a law in Togo that constitutes equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, women’s rights activist Berthe Adjoavi Tatey stated that this law is not acted upon. She claimed that women continue to have inadequate access to financial services. Sophie Ekue, a journalist in Togo said, “women are the belt that holds men’s trousers. And it is high time that this changes–for the benefit of the whole society.”
  5. Women are becoming more involved politically. As of 2010, nine members of the National Assembly and seven ministers in the Cabinet were women. In 2012, Togolese women organized a week-long “sex-strike.” The goal of the strike was to pressure President Faure Gnassingbe to resign. Women who wanted to take part in the strike were asked to withhold sex from their husbands. The goal was to convince men to also take action against the president. Togolese women have also led two naked protests. The first was following the sex-strike in August 2012, and the second was in September 2017. The goal of the protests was the same as the sex-strike: mobilize men against the president.

With the uprise of gender equality laws, female-led protests and national women’s conferences, Togo is looking toward a better future as far as gender equality and women’s rights are concerned. These 5 facts about women’s rights in Togo show there is still room to improve. It is essential that Togo continues to focus on advancements for women so there can be political, educational and financial equality between both genders in Togo, creating a strong flourishing community.

– Malena Larsen
Photo: Flickr

Sex Education in China
Sex education in China is almost nonexistent. Many schools in China don’t even have a sex education program. Instead, students are typically taught only the basic anatomical differences between males and females.

This lack of education is dangerous in light of the recent sexual revolution in China. According to China Daily, more than 70% of Chinese young people have sex before marriage. Similarly, China has a rate of 13 million abortions annually, according to a 2013 study. Most of the women receiving abortions are single women between the ages of 20 and 29.

“Many young people don’t use contraception at all and that is reflected in high abortion rates for youth,” says Joan Kaufman, a Distinguished Scientist at the Schneider Institutes for Health Policy at Brandeis University.

Research from Fudan University similarly concluded that “there is a large unmet need for reproductive health services for women prior to marriage in China.” For example, 68% of Chinese women were confused about the difference between oral contraceptives and the morning-after pill, according to the China World Contraception Day Organization.

This lack of education makes women vulnerable to abuse, unwanted pregnancy and STIs, particularly HIV. For example, sexual transmission now accounts for 91% of all HIV infections.

HIV is linked to poverty in that it prevents patients from being able to work and greatly increases the entire family’s medical expenditures. Public information and education on prevention – especially targeted to high-risk groups such as young people – will be instrumental in reducing the spread of this epidemic.

Unwanted pregnancies are also connected to poverty. According to Luis-Felipe López- Calva, the World Bank Lead Economist for Latin America and the Caribbean, “Poverty and lack of opportunity are directly associated with teenage pregnancy and early motherhood, which can become impediments to women wanting to take full advantage of development opportunities.”

Although sex education in China is still a new concept, the Chinese government is making an effort to increase AIDS awareness and promote sexual health. Similarly, Chinese Internet users have begun posting videos that teach crucial sex facts in one-minute clips.

Improving sex education in China will be instrumental in reducing poverty. Not only will it reduce HIV transmission and unwanted pregnancies, it will also ensure that young people, particularly women, have full access to economic and further educational opportunities.

Liliana Rehorn

Photo: Flickr

Sex Education in Guatemala
Guatemala has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Latin America. By age 20, 54 to 68 percent of indigenous or uneducated women have married or become pregnant.

This number is raised by a high rate of sexual abuse that boys and girls suffer: 10,000 cases are reported every year. One of the many reasons these statistics are so alarmingly high is a lack of comprehensive sex education in Guatemala. In 2012, only two percent of schools had effective programs; but fortunately, many advocates have worked to counteract these dismal statistics over the past few years.

Comprehensive sex education is incredibly beneficial to children of all genders. The National Survey of Family Growth discovered that pregnancy rates for 15 to 19-year-olds are 50 percent lower for teens who receive comprehensive sex education than for teenagers who received less education.

Guatemalan children need to be taught about contraceptives, STIs, HIV, pregnancy and especially consent. Programs should emphasize the goals of improved gender equality as well as increasing male involvement in family planning. These alterations would allow teenagers to have more control over their reproductive health as well as counteract the dangerous culture of violence and rape.

Fortunately, new legislation has paved the way for improvement. The 2010 Preventing through Education Act calls for comprehensive sex education in Guatemala and increases teenage access to sexual health services.

Sex educator Ana Lucía Ramazzini insists that “sex education cannot be successful in Guatemala without being taught from a feminist viewpoint that addresses consent, assault and the power dynamics and social inequalities between men and women.” Two other laws have been similarly positive — hospitals are now required to report pregnancies for girls under 14, and the marrying age with parental consent has been raised from 14 to 16.

Three years after the Prevention through Education Act, a program with gender equality views was incorporated into nine regions. After the 2010 law passed in Guatemala, the rate of teen pregnancy decreased from 90 births per 1000 women ages 15-19 to 81 births in 2014. While the statistic is not overtly dramatic, the steady decline does indeed bode well for the future.

Ten Guatemalan organizations and a handful of international organizations continue to transform sex education from bill to reality. UNAIDS works to educate people about HIV and decrease the stigma surrounding the condition for the 65,000 people in Guatemala who live with the disease and require treatment. Two Guatemalan organizations in particular, Asociacion Pro-Bienestar de la Familia de Guatemala (APROFAM) and Incide Joven, have done exceptional work in this field.

APROFAM is a family planning organization that serves Guatemala with 27 permanent clinics, five mobile facilities and a large number of community distributors. Their clinics and workshops provide education for both men and women about the effectiveness of contraceptives and family planning services. Using media from comic strips and television shows, they educate the public on both sexual health as well as issues of consent and abuse.

Incide Joven is a similar organization, but its uniqueness stems from the fact that it is entirely youth-run. Like APROFAM, Incide Joven is dedicated to making sex education available for teenagers. Their advocacy was very successful in creating the valuable Gender and Cultural Diversity office as part of the Ministry of Education to oversee new sex education. APROFAM and Incide Joben share sex educator Ana Ramazzini’s ideology by encouraging both genders to take an active role in family planning.

With such high rates of abuse and teenage pregnancy, sex education in Guatemala is a tough job. Fortunately, children are growing more aware of their rights and the risks of young sex. A 10-year-old listing off information about HIV at a UNAIDS event said that “[children] are very young for sex. Ah! And that our body is only ours and no one can touch it.”

The emphasis on consent in sex education in Guatemala not only builds a better-informed public, but it also is a large step in the right direction for female empowerment and youth rights.

Jeanette Burke

Photo: Bustle

Historically, the Middle East and North Africa, otherwise referred to as the MENA region, have had issues with embedding reproductive and sexual health into its education system. More often than not, these areas are excluded from the countries’ health and development agendas due to cultural constraints. Many MENA countries remain conservative patriarchal societies, which often produce barriers in gathering information about sexual health issues.

However, a survey in Qazvin, Iran among university students demonstrated that a majority of the population does not believe sex education would lead to sexual immorality. In fact, students believe this knowledge is more beneficial in the long run by delaying first intercourse and leading to consistent contraceptive use.

On the other hand, Egypt’s 2009 survey of more than 10,000 school-aged children illustrated that less than 20 percent of students received their information about puberty while in school. About 60 percent of girls cited their mothers as their main source for health information. But if these mothers never had adequate reproductive health exposure in school themselves, how prepared are parents to discuss sexuality with their children?

With almost half of the combined population in the MENA region under the age of 25, there is an urgent need to inform the young population about safe sex practices. As the current generation attains higher levels of education and marries later than their parents did, the younger population is making more efforts for the dissemination of health information in schools to better protect their bodies.

In Egypt, a program called Ishraq targets young girls in underprivileged rural cities and brings them into a safe environment to educate them on health and nutrition, among other things. Since the launch of the program in 2001, Ishraq has expanded to other areas, targeting boys as well. The program has succeeded in mobilizing communities and is currently gaining support to institutionalize the program at the local and national level.

More health initiatives, like Ishraq, need to be seen in the MENA region. Information sharing, education and training will be essential for reproductive health in the MENA region. In addition, a major effort needs to be undertaken to deal with cultural constraints. By gaining the support of political and religious leaders, advances can be made in reproductive health that will endure.

Leeda Jewayni

Sources: PRB 1, PRB 2, ACUNS
Photo: Flickr

Despite censure, a small village in Pakistan is defying social norms. Tucked away in the ultra-conservative Sindh province, the village of Johi is doing something extraordinary and radical: they’re providing sex education classes for girls.

To a Westerner this notion may seem far from revolutionary, but it is a gigantic leap forward for Pakistan. In the Muslim nation of 180 million people, sex education is taboo — in some places it has even been outlawed. Women who expose their sexuality in the slightest and most harmless of ways can be sentenced to death.

The pioneers behind the movement are bravely looking forward, teaching girls what they feel is just and necessary. They have established the Village Shadabad Organization where sex education classes are taught to girls starting at age 8. Thus far, there are 700 girls enrolled in eight different schools. The topics range from changes in the female body, to what a women’s rights are, to how she can protect herself. The lessons are an addition to regularly taught classes.

From the teachers’ experience, sex education is vital knowledge these young girls are deprived of. When they begin to menstruate, for example, they are ashamed and think they are sick. Pakistani girls are largely uneducated about puberty and do not know when they will begin to menstruate. Furthermore, many girls get married without understanding the mechanics of sex.

The lessons are not only useful in educating the girls about the natural functions of their bodies, but they are also a means of teaching self-defense. The girls learn that they have a right to their bodies; they learn how to defend themselves if someone violates their personal space; they are taught that even if they are married, their husband cannot force them to engage in sex if they are not willing.

Surprisingly, most families in Johi support the implementation of sex education in the public school curriculum. Unfortunately, the movement is far from reaching a national arena. In fact, the government recently shifted in the opposite direction, forcing the elite Lahore Grammar School to eliminate sex education courses from its curriculum. Many people argue that sex education is a violation of Pakistan’s constitution and an obstruction to their religious beliefs. For now, sex education in Pakistan is still a fringe idea, but nonetheless, the idea demonstrates an outward display of government defiance and a step in the right direction for women.

– Samantha Scheetz

Sources: UN Women, Huffington Post, Reuters
Photo: Wikimedia