Understanding adolescents perceptions on gender

“I know my rights. I have control over my body” says 16-year-old Victorine_Ngimou, Wfac SRHR peer educator, during an interview for my Women and Gender Studies (WGS), MSc. school practicum.
Early this March 2016, as part of a class practicum for an MSc course, I was assigned the responsibility to serve as a team leader to a group of 5, tasked to researched and understand “The role of CSOs in addressing Young people’s Sexual and Reproductive health rights (SRHR)”.
Women for a Change, Cameroon (Wfac) was one of the two CSOs identified for our research. It was indeed a privilege opportunity to interact with some staff/volunteers of Wfac, including their two adolescent SRHR peer educators – that is Victorine_Ngimou (16 years) and Desmond_A (19years) both of whom are members of Wfac’s on-campus #SRHR peer education club ‘Development Fighters’.
Victorine & Desmond, when asked about their understanding and thoughts about ensuring equal opportunities between women and men, their responses was very straight and clear. They all said that both girls and boys are humans and as such must be given equal opportunities.
“No one should be discriminated on bases of their gender or sex, to become whatever they want to be in life” says Desmond, 19 year-old.
“A girl can be a leader or president of the country like any other person” he adds.
It was a good experience to listen and understand adolescents perceptions on gender, women and girls SRHR. They even went further to make me to understand that in school as well as ou-of-school, they ain’t shy to challenge anyone who dares to speak of “a women’s place is in the kitchen”.
That their role as SRHR peer educator among others, include, educating and encouraging their peers to be ally against practices such as girl early and forced marriage, street harassment and sexual violence. They also speak on the prevalent rate of teen pregnancies, the risk of unsafe abortion and that abortion is not a method of contraceptive.
In 2013, Shalom Sisters Organization conducted a study survey in Tiko subdivision on the prevalence of adolescent pregnancies, where it was found out that 7 out of 10 teenage girls were likely be a mother or have at least been pregnant. Similarly, according to UNFPA (2013), 25% of adolescence (15-19 years) girls have already been pregnant.
Teen pregnancies can be reduced given that young people, boys and girls are informed and educated about their SRHR.
Listening to Victorine and Desmond speak, I couldn’t stop being impressed by their confidence and the passion in their voice as they explained to me their understanding and perception on equal opportunities for all.
Comprehensive sexuality education is indeed essential in transforming behaviours and attitudes towards women, particularly in having full control over their bodily autonomy. Thus, Wfac is taking the lead to support these adolescents through education, training, sensitization and awareness raising with valuable information about their Sexual and reproductive health and rights.
This therefore explains why the participants expressed satisfaction with the opportunities provided by Wfac. There is no doubt that Victorine and Desmond would all grow into adulthood with empathy for gender justice and zero tolerance against any form of violence on women and girls.
“… prior to the seminar, I had no knowledge that as women I have the right to decide when, why, and whether I want to have children, I thought it was a man’s decision only…” says one Wfac Volunteer.
These remarkable expressions by the participants is a reflection on the organizations wide scope of impact created in the field in an attempt to secure better health services for women and girls. In the face of culture and other misconceptions about SRHR, Wfac can only go this far due to some limitations.
This intervention by Wfac is indeed deconstructing the whole misconceptions and social relations between school girls and boys around their lives and SRHR.
Written by Clemence Ngijoe, MSc. Women and Gender Studies, University of Buea
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