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FRESH - Fully and Richly Empowered about Sexual Health

These seed grants were funded by Johnson & Johnson and WomanCare Global via the Women Deliver C Exchange Youth Initiative.

By: Nargis Shirazi, FRESH Campaign (Uganda)

“I cannot use a condom. Condoms cause cancer in the long run. I prefer to go live!”

I gasped when one of my acquaintances said this. I know the picture you have in your head… a rural girl with unkempt hair and dirty nails who had dropped out of school. Well that’s not quite it – let me paint the picture. These words came from an intelligent lawyer who has been practicing for more than three years. She wears high heels, speaks with confidence and is currently working toward her master’s degree. That myth was actually embedded in the mind of what society would call “a learned individual!”

I wondered how many more myths exist. I asked myself if young people have a platform to discuss and demystify these stories. The internet is full of information, but so are our brains. We grow up surrounded by tales and truths that form our knowledge base, mold our belief systems and influence our behavior. So I decided to create an open platform where young people can discuss sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and learn more about how to live healthy lives and how to protect themselves.

The FRESH-FULLY AND RICHLY EMPOWERED about SEXUAL HEALTH (FRESH) project addresses the unmet need for youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health information services for youth living in urban and slum areas in Uganda. Through the use of a hotline and social media tools like Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and blogs, we educate young people about SRHR. They have a platform to share their stories, identify myths and discuss issues affecting their sexual health, with the goal of increasing the national discussion. 

We hold two FRESH CLUB meetings every month, post discussions on our Twitter page and ask for questions and comments. We demonstrate how to use different types of condoms and talk at length about sexually-transmitted infections (STIs). We bring in doctors from The Medical Concierge Group, a clinic founded by young people, to help answer questions. Marie Stopes Uganda has also given us some materials on sexual myths.

It has been interesting to hear young people talk about SRHR. So far, we have also discussed more than 50 sexual myths with doctors. They include:

  • Washing your private parts with Coca-Cola restores virginity in girls and prevents pregnancy
  • Having early sex helps girls’ breasts grow big
  • Having sex in the water helps prevent pregnancy
  • A boy must have sex with an older woman to be initiated into teenhood
  • Jumping up and down after sex prevents pregnancy
  • Drinking a whole jerry can of detergent in two days will induce an abortion
  • Having sex with teenagers helps older men stay young and fit
  • The lubrication in condoms causes cancer

Most young people live their sexual lives based on these myths, and we know there are many more of them. In September, we will stage a play based on these myths, “THE CALL,” at the national theater here in Kampala, Uganda.

I was inspired to start this campaign when a young girl I knew became pregnant while still at university. The boy neglected her pregnancy and called her bad names. She could not stand the thought of dropping out of school, destroying her plans and dreams, so she decided to have an unsafe abortion. As I write this, that girl lies in a grave with no tomb stone. She had no funeral because her parents were disgraced. Two days after a traditional healer ruptured her uterus, she bled to death.

So many questions arise from that story, but for me, it has to do with knowledge and understanding. It’s about the need to be educated to make a sound decision. It’s about the ability to negotiate for safe sex. It’s about the need for contraception. It’s about having a place where a young person can go without being judged. It’s about facing reality, and it’s about truth. It’s about the need for comprehensive sex education. It’s about young people. It’s about you.

Like our FRESH CAMPAIGN Facebook page. Follow us on Twitter. Send your stories on SRHR to suripsyc@gmail.com with the subject FRESH CAMPAIGN STORY. We can save lives by providing information and a space where young people can be heard with no judgment.

This is your space. OWN IT. Young people are not just the leaders of tomorrow – we are the leaders of today!

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