As a young advocate for SRHR in Uganda, I have come to realize that there is a burning need to tackle the stigma associated with young people’s access to Sexual and Reproductive Health services. Whereas there is a National Sexuality Education Framework in my country, we should agree that many young people still lack access to the information in this framework, especially young people in hard to reach areas, those who do not go to school and many more with limited access to different sources of information about their Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights. According to the United Nations statistics, there were 1.2 billion youth aged 15-24 globally as of 2015 and this was predicted to increase to 1.3 billion youth by 2030. This specific age group is characterized by adolescents who are at the point of making transformational decisions and engaging in exploration of different things in their lives. These also ought to include their sexual and reproductive decisions. Young people therefore need to live in societies that are free from stigma such that they are able to access information about their Sexual and Reproductive health rights. This will enhance their ability to make informed decisions and also help them deal with different SRH challenges that they may encounter as they grow.
In many African countries, this stigma has continued marking young people for disgrace, shame and even disgust spoiling/ tarnishing their social identities. Stigma has permeated attitudes towards recipients of Sexual and reproductive health services which in the long run has now shifted to service providers. In my community, the stigma of contracting STI’s among young people has been associated with shame and being labeled as “spoilt”. This was evident to me this month when I had an encounter with a 15 year old girl who was diagonised with severe Urinary Tract Infection. As a result of not treating the infection, it had now spread from the bladder to one of her kidneys. Her explanation for not opening up about the pain/ seeking treatment was the fear of being labeled as disgraceful and shameless. Everyone has a right to live a decent life despite of their age/ who they are. Some of the things that hinder young people to access youth friendly services are lack of confidentiality, empathy, respect but most commonly is the fear of being judged and labeled names by the people around them.
Results from research carried out by Joseph Oonyu, Ethiopian Journal for Reproductive Health 11 (2), 9-9, 2019 show that there was a high demand for SRHR education by 264 university students (66.3%) to help them overcome barriers such as the inability to get reliable and accurate information, to empower them in decision making and to overcome inadequate education from parents and the university. This therefore shows us that even the information bearers such as SRHR advocates, service providers, teachers, parents among many other stakeholders also have a role to play in tackling stigma around access to SRH services by young people. If you think you want quality care and access to improved services then you should want the same for someone else.
Everyone needs to understand that by the virtue of being human then we are all bound to make choices about our sexual and reproductive health. It is therefore important for all of us to be equipped with knowledge about which choices to make and also have access to quality services. As we root for improved access to SRH services for everyone in Africa, we are also challenged to desist from stigmatizing young people’s access these services. Young people should be able to live in communities that are free from stigma, equal and understand that young people are human as well. By facing the reality of stigma around SRHR, we shall contribute to young people’s wellbeing and their ability to participate fully in the development of their lives and communities.
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