Women’s history month is for “commemorating and encouraging the…vital role of women in American history.” But how do we ensure that all women and girls—in the US and abroad—live long and prosperous lives full of opportunities that allow them to change the world for the better? We have to talk about sex.
Approximately 12 million girls aged 15–19 years and almost 1 million girls under 15 years give birth each year in low-income countries. Research is clear that early pregnancy has a long-term negative impact on a girl’s health, education and ability to fully realize her potential.
I understand these challenges personally. When I was 16 years old, I was an honors student on track to study at a top-tier university. Three months before my 17th birthday I was pregnant. I was summarily classified as a moral hazard, removed from my school (and my honors classes) and reassigned to a special campus for pregnant girls. Unlike many other girls in my circumstance, I finished high school and eventually, post-secondary education. I was able to overcome the many challenges that early pregnancy presents and escape the poverty I experienced as a child. Although I was able to overcome the odds, I have experienced the very real social, emotional and financial costs associated with early pregnancy. No girl should have to experience this. And we know how to stop early pregnancy at home and around the globe.
The research is clear that when we have the conversations and create the access to services that equip young people to make informed choices about their own sexual health and their sexual and reproductive futures, we preserve the promise of tomorrow for young women, young men and their communities. When the right supports are in place, teen pregnancy declines.
Moves to restrict access to comprehensive sex education and access to contraception and other sexual health services fly in the face of everything we know about how to ensure that children are wanted and have parents that are prepared for their arrival. Now that the Biden administration has lifted the Global Gag rule meant to stifle dialogue about reproductive rights, we need to use this opportunity to create real dialogue and dismantle the social taboos, systemic barriers and economic pressures that create the conditions for high rates of child and teenage pregnancies.
At PCI Media, our program, Let’s Talk! takes on early and unintended pregnancy in 21 countries across Eastern and Southern Africa through communications strategies that foster intergenerational conversations. It is our hope that through personal stories and experiences from our Let’s Talk champions, that we can change attitudes and behaviors around talking about sexual health.
There are still too many young women and men who do not have the information, access and social support to avoid early pregnancy. Persistent social dogmas, denial about adolescent sexual development, and political grandstanding relegate too many young people to the adverse effects of early pregnancy and other negative repercussions of unprotected sexual activity. Many will not recover.
As elders we hold the responsibility to pass down the knowledge about life and that includes our reproductive power. As humans, we have the ability and choice to create new life and this is not something that we should shy away from talking about. This ability is a beautiful gift that should be cared for and nurtured and used in a way in which each person consciously chooses.
The path to a healthier and brighter future for millions of girls around the world is not possible without talking with our children about their sexuality, about their hopes, their fears and their futures. It’s time to set aside the taboo, the embarrassment, and the shame.