While SRHR remains a delicate issue among religious and traditional leaders in the country, people in the villages of Nakhonyo, Mbewa and Magombo, in the southern district of Mulanje, are finally coming around to appreciating the importance of talking about young people’s sexual and health rights.
While in the last three years SRHR was being considered as a tool for encouraging promiscuity and sexual freedoms among the youth as it promoted the use of contraceptives, there has been a turn around on this notion, with most leaders in the area now seeing the benefit of ensuring these rights are encouraged.
The link of SRHR to the following:
- Rapid population growth in Malawi
- Harmful cultural practices
- Early marriages
- HIV and Aids
- Rise in school girl dropouts
- Economic hardships
has helped to show how introduction of SRHR to adolescents and young women, can help the community and the country, as they make informed choices about their lives and future.
The question still remains though, how far should our advocacy go in order not to dilute our culture? It is a well known practice for girls and boys to undergo rights of passage, in form of initiation ceremonies, as they come of age. Most of them will not have a say on what happens to them as parents play a big role in this. The role of the traditional leaders is also paramount in this, as the parents often have to register with the chief in the area, and pay some form of fee for the initiation ceremonies to take place. Whilst all stake holders agree that it is important to maintain our culture, the harmful practices that come with initiation ceremonies should be completely removed, as they infringe on the rights of the girls, who are forced to sleep with a man, to cleanse them, as part of coming of age.
Religious leaders in the area have been challenged to step in and use their influence to promote safe cultural practices, in order to safeguard their youth flock. This has seen some churches in the area providing the space for coming of age camps, where the girls and boys are given “the talk” from a faith based approach. The use of church youth meetings has also helped to raise awareness on SRHR and is impacting positively on the lives of the adolescents and young women in the area.
What stands out, at the end of the day, is that the religious and traditional leaders play an important role, in shaping the lives of their subjects in the community and as custodians, should take an active role in ensuring that the sexual and reproductive health and rights of adolescents and young women are protected.
Investment in sexual and reproductive health and rights will; protect the health and happiness of young people, build their potential for healthy productive lives and improve social and economic development.