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World Contraception Day: Myths Block Contraception among Young People

By: Numfor Alenwi, Women Deliver 100 Young Leader from Cameroon

This blog is part of a series, edited by Women Deliver, in partnership with Impatient Optimists, on youth perspectives to celebrate World Contraception Day. Share your thoughts in comments and join the conversation at #WCD2012. For more stories and to get involved further visit No Controversy.

For young people in my country, the need for comprehensive education is needed to overcome myths and misconceptions about contraception. In Cameroon, only 37% of the demand for family planning is satisfied. Though you may think that this low number is due to a lack of availability and affordability, as is the case with many developing nations, it is also because of the incorrect perception among young women that contraception is linked to negative side-effects like weight gain, sterility, and cancer.

In the last five years, social enterprises and charity organizations, among other efforts, have greatly increased the availability of modern contraceptives in Cameroon. In addition to female and male condoms (which can be found in stores around town), intra-uterine devices (IUDs), Jadelle, Depo-Provera and Nouvelle-Duo can be found in many local health centers. Despite the availability of contraceptives, about 20.2% of women still have an unmet need for family planning in Cameroon. There are 138 reported births per 1,000 women aged 15–19 years, and 65% of the poorest 20–24 years old women have had a child before reaching 18.

In a survey conducted by my organization, Cameroon Agenda for Sustainable Development (CASD), many young women express the fear that contraceptives will cause side effects such as weight gain, sterility and cancer. Mr. Ngang Peter, head of Family Planning Services at Association Camerounaise pour le Marketing Social Bamenda, confirmed these myths as key obstacles to contraception choices among young women.

But most studies on contraception and weight changes have found that weight gain concerns are unwarranted. And women who do end up gaining weight, experts say, may simply be misperceiving normal weight gain over time as an unwanted side effect of contraceptives. Concerning sterility and cancer, they are not founded anywhere as side effects of contraception.

The influence of these myths on the young people is a clear sign that the age group lack comprehensive knowledge on contraception. The laws in Cameroon prohibit family planning education in schools and freedom of contraception choice by women below 18. At home, parents see dialogue on contraception as a taboo. It is obvious that the little knowledge that young people have is received from friends and media, making it sometimes unreliable and easier to continue the spread of myths and rumors.

As Cameroon joins the international community to celebrate World Contraception Day, young advocates are hoping to have stakeholders acknowledge the importance of contraception education in schools and homes. This is incredibly important – the current denial of such education has not stopped sexual activities among young people but created space for increasing trends of unwanted pregnancies. Also, it has been proven that the cost of managing unwanted pregnancies and their aftermath far outweighs the cost of bringing comprehensive sex education (family planning inclusive) to schools and homes.

Numfor Alenwi is a Social Entrepreneur currently the co-founder and Executive Director of Cameroon Agenda for Sustainable Development (CASD); and host of the ‘100% Jeune Live’ Radio program on Radio Hot Cocoa in Bamenda Cameroon.

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