by Kwiyo Patience
In the back seat of a car, at a popular Kampala hangout, I tell the man I’m getting intimate with with “no” to a request that I don’t feel like doing.
It’s the first time my “no” is a full sentence- emphatic and with no follow up apologies to pacify my partner’s feelings. I’m all of twenty five years of age when it dawns on me that I have full agency over what I can and can’t do with my body. It’s an empowering moment for me. It’s also extremely shocking that the realization has occurred to me so late in life.
Later, when I start an initiative inspired by this very incident, with an aim of empowering young university women with knowledge about their SRHR rights, I find that the concept of saying “no” to a partner in an intimate situation, is a novel concept for many of the women I talk to.
At the 2015 Inter-generational Sexual and Reproductive Health Dialogue, organized by Reach a Hand, Uganda, students and young people boldly point out how, by keeping silent/ ignoring an issue as critical as sexuality among young people, parents, elders and government are failing them and their futures. They call for a move away from a useless sex education offered in school towards one that is more comprehensive and holistic.
But in a country whose social foundations are deeply rooted in culture and religion, both of which are known for shrouding sex in mystery and painting it as a sin to be ignored or talked about as little as possible- it is unsurprising that many parents and elders take offense at young people demanding for more open and frank conversations about sex.
Infact, this sentiment is constantly echoed across the country.
It doesn’t occur to these parents and elders that sexual and reproductive health is not just about having the tools and information to have safe sex for young people, which, is important; it is also about empowering young people to say “no”, and even beyond that, create a healthy view of sex and consent, help young people make the right decisions for themselves and their futures, and also know their sexual and reproductive health rights.
Currently, Uganda’s teenage pregnancy statistics stands at 25% – the highest in the Sub- Saharan region. While there are many other factors contributing to this statistic, lack of unbiased and factual information about sex, reproduction and sexual and reproductive health rights has been cited as a major reason.
And, with the youth making up 75% of the population, youth sexual and reproductive health rights becomes an urgent political and economic issue with the potential to derail not only young people’s futures but our country’s future as well.
To paraphrase the students who attended the 2015 Inter-Generational Sex and Reproductive Health Rights Dialogue, young people will continue to be curious about and have sex, because that’s simply how biology works. It has to become each and everyone’s responsibility to create a safe environment and make all the necessary information accessible as they navigate a complex and critical stage in their lives. They are our future and they must be protected.