Majority of women and girls in rural areas cannot afford sanitary pads during menstruation. We offer health talks every week to different schools and demonstrate to young girls how to use pads. This project aims at improving the level of health and sanitation within primary and secondary schools.
Reproductive Education for Rural Girls and Women
The Rural Women Center for Education and Development (RuWCED)-Cameroon is a community led grass root not-for-profit organisation that works with rural women and girls in the areas of reproductive health and STIs, agriculture, girl child education, violence and discrimination. We provide sanitary napkins to primary school pupils, give small scholarships to underprivileged girls and orphans whose mothers passed out at child birth or related event (children orphaned by maternal mortality), organise reproductive health education lessons and also give transport assistance to women and girls living with HIV/AIDS to go for antiretrovirals. We are also trying to get connections with doctors to come to the villages where we work and do monthly consultations for women and girls since access to proper health care services is yet a dream for most of these rural women and girls.
Problems this project is trying to address
In most parts or rural Cameroon, there is a culture of silence around sex. Talking about sexual education among young unmarried girls is even considered perversion and a taboo (spoiling the children). Worst still, there are no lessons on sex education in most rural primary school since they do not offer domestic science lessons. The topic Human Reproduction is only taught in the last two classes of secondary schools and to those studying sciences (Biology/Human biology). However, sexuality related issues continue to top the list of factors determining rural birth rates, adolescent pregnancy, crude abortion, maternal death and other related reproductive health challenges which most governments are facing. Teenage pregnancy and school dropouts, crude abortions of unwanted babies, extremely large family size are among the population challenges facing rural girls and parents who even try to educate their girl children pass primary school level. Our research on this topic in most rural communities where we work suggest that:
- Most primary school girls are already mature by the time they and in their last years. However, they have no idea about what puberty is all about. Most of them are not even aware of sanitary napkins and the few who know cannot afford. This pushes them to use dirty and infected old cloths.
- Since girls are not taught in primary schools (their highest level of education for those who even attain) and at home, their mothers do not talk about it with them. Sex education “Is a thing you discover” and most women go into marriage without even being able to understand their menstrual cycles properly. Out of 200 women interviewed, only 25% of them knew how to count their menstrual circle and had heard of a family planning method outside the use of condoms (which their husbands refuse to use most often). Of this 25%, only 10% could explain how at least one family method works bought contraceptives from street vendors which often lead to further complications. The rest of the women depended on traditional herbs, abstinence during breastfeeding. This was further found to be a cause of most of the unreported domestic rape occurring in most rural families since husbands turned to feel deprived. Also, such sexual deprivation caused some husbands to go in for polygamous marriages which has been seen as a cause of further infidelity, increased STIs, large family size, violence and poverty just to name a few.
- Our research found that the major cause of this is the fact that in rural areas (where majority of Cameroonian population reside, larger family sizes are found and increased rate of maternal mortality prevail), girls are not educated or at the most, they leave school at the primary level where reproductive health is not part of the curriculum and at home, their parents do not educate them on how to manage sex and reproductive health. In this way, it was observed that the rural girl goes into marriage unprepared and ignorant about many reproductive health issues which further pave the way for more social troubles.
- More so, in the rural communities where we work, the labelling of HIV/AIDS to promiscuity and the stigma of being HIV positive has gone a long way to frighten women and young girls from going for tests. Following a recent survey that we did in some villages of the Northwest Region, 70% of the women refused to go for tests quoting that" knowing that you are HIV positive kills more than the disease itself" meanwhile, the virus is claiming many lives.
How this project is making a difference within communities
We have started a mobile rural reproductive health education program in our organization where our nurses offer intensive 2-3weeks courses to both already married women and girls. Women who excel well and spread the knowledge gained while encouraging other women to join benefit educational assistance for their girl children in secondary schools. Also, already menstruating primary school girls (who are seen as ‘ripe’ for marriage) are offered sanitary napkins and those who excel well and influence their peers through peer education to join our program receive educational assistance in secondary school. Also, women and girls living with HIV/AIDS who open up are given financial assistance to get antiretroviral since it is very difficult for most of them to access it either due to shame and stigma, or its accessibility or due to poverty.