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Meet the teens taking control of their futures

Friday 11 October 2019 Inonge Wina-Chinyama Young people, Opinion Zambia

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Being a teenager can be exciting and fun – sharing secrets with friends, talking about sex and relationships, feeling in control of the world. But as we mark International Day of the Girl today, we know that too many adolescent girls still don’t have the tools they need to control their own lives, bodies and health.

Inonge Wina-Chinyama

Working with teenagers in Zambia, I see what happens when young women can’t access contraception. On one visit to a remote community, I met a young girl who’d had unprotected sex just once and got pregnant – and not only that, she also contracted HIV. She showed us her baby and told us, “He also has HIV.” And she wanted to know: “Is there hope for me?”

I looked at her and saw how we’d failed her. Before having sex, there was no one to talk to her about how to protect herself from an unintended pregnancy and HIV. When she had unprotected sex, there was no one to tell her where to get help if she contracted HIV or got pregnant. When she found out she was pregnant, there was no one to tell her how to prevent her child from contracting HIV.

She couldn’t ask for help because she felt like she’d already made a huge mistake. Everybody was saying to her: “You’ve been having sex, look at you, now you’re pregnant!” Where could she go to get help?

I took her to our clinic and told her, “Here is a nurse who can help you.” If someone had done that earlier, her whole journey would have been different.

Adolescent girls need services that fit their unique needs – and we’re working hard to adapt how we reach them, so that fewer young women fall through the cracks. That means making sure services are provided in a discreet and private place, so that teens can come to learn about contraception without fear of being judged or gossiped about.

We’ve created youth centers with a warm, welcoming design called “Diva Centers”. And we’ve hired “teen connectors,” young women who can talk to teens at our centers or out in the community about sex and contraception – because young people are often more comfortable talking to a peer than an older nurse.

We’re also changing how we talk about contraception. We spoke with dozens of girls, who told us that language like “family planning” and “birth spacing” just doesn’t resonate with them. They’re not planning a family yet! That’s why we’ve started linking contraception with what’s important to young women, like finishing their education and pursuing their dreams. We created a new brand called the Divine Divas, featuring five Divas who each use the method of contraception that fits her lifestyle – from the implant for Ms. Ambition to the injection for the Girl on the Go.

Our efforts are paying off, with more and more young girls coming into our centers. Between 2013 and 2018, we’ve seen an annual growth of 55%! And we’re changing policy to make it easier for young girls to access reproductive healthcare. MSI is part of the Safe Abortion Action Group and Family Planning Technical Working Group, partnering with the Zambian government to influence policy and make contraception and abortion services accessible to girls.

Teens need access to contraception and safe abortion, and they should be able to access it without being judged. That’s why, on Day of the Girl and every day, we’re committed to reaching adolescent girls, so they’re free to achieve their dreams.

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