Parents should break away from traditional fears and openly speak to their sons and daughters about sexual reproductive health, says the First Lady of Rwanda.
Mrs Jeannette Kagame was speaking Wednesday in New York during the meeting of the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA).
The meeting was held on the sidelines of the 71st UN General Assembly.
“While we can all agree that this topic is still a social and cultural taboo for many of us, we cannot afford to let a little discomfort determine whether or not we encourage parents, educators, and health professionals to talk about this issue with our young girls,” she said.
Mrs Kagame said ignorance on sexual reproduction health among the youth could trigger a health crisis. Sexual reproductive health education matters a lot- it is part of the components that makes youth to be rational.
Referring to research, the First Lady said, “Experience has shown that their level of comfort, and knowledge, on these matters has an impact on their education, behaviour and well-being, which in turn determines their ability to positively influence their own health, and that of future generations.”
There resides the role of parents to “indeed ensure that our girls and boys have access to the best age-appropriate, youth-friendly health services, and to embrace our responsibility to empower them with keen knowledge, pertaining to their sexual and reproductive health.”
This empowerment can be channeled through well-structured and effective initiatives that respond to youth needs.
While outlining such initiatives that respond to the youth needs, the First Lady said, countries should, “take into account our cultural norms, and recognizing the value of prevention strategies to preclude health crises, that would heavily impact the future of children on our continent.”
Jeannette Kagame also shared with her counterparts some of her culturally sensitive projects helping girls make informed choices.
The projects are channeled through Imbuto Foundation, a-15 year old charity of which she is chairperson.
They include; the Family Package, the very first initiative of the organization that addressed challenges of pregnant mothers and the families affected with HIV/AIDS. The package would grow to include a youth component relating to voluntarily testing after education on AIDS.
From this youth section of the project would also develop The Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights which was grounded in HIV/AIDS awareness and involved health centers in educating the youth.
Other projects include Mountain Movers, then and the 12+program launched 2 years ago, with the aim of providing vulnerable girls, aged 10-12, with crucial information on sexual reproductive health.It also equips them with socio-economic and leadership skills to prepare them for adolescence,which is a delicate chapter of their lives.
All these initiatives were successful because of collaboration between the public and private sector.
The First Lady said there is no shortcut, rather African societies should “recognize that it is our responsibility to educate our youth, to make informed decisions and adopt best practices, which will help them live the kind of healthy future, they are so rightfully entitled to.”
At AOFLA, several participants said it’s time for Africans to revise their thinking of sexual reproductive health.
“We can no longer justify denying adolescents access to Comprehensive sex education,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, the UNFPA Deputy Executive Director.
For Irina Bokova, the Director General of UNESCO, “First Ladies have a powerful voice which is crucial for the young girls in Africa.”