By: Hasinihaja Tsiaro Barijaona Raharison, one of the Women Deliver 100 Young Leaders and an Oxfam Action Partner
In Madagascar, there remains a lack of information about contraception. Myths and misconceptions surrounding contraceptive use are common among young people, and confusion and ignorance has led to incorrect or low use of modern contraceptive methods and high amounts of concern about contraceptive side effects. Myths persist, including stories that modern contraceptive methods are responsible for infertility and that taking a bath or shower after sex, rinsing a woman’s vagina with soda, or taking inappropriate pills after sex are effective at stopping unwanted pregnancies.
Young people are the most in need of unbiased, accurate information because they do not yet have a mature sense of the hazards involved or an appreciation for the long-term implications of an unwanted or early pregnancy. Most of the time, young people are afraid and embarrassed to talk about sex, including with their sexual partners. They feel too self-conscious or fear being seen as promiscuous, and use of contraception might be against their religious beliefs or values. Even purchasing contraceptives can create a stigma for young people in our society. We must break this damaging silence between partners before they start having sex; particularly, we must encourage girls and women to step out of the shadows and talk.
Part of breaking this silence means talking to parents about sex, even if it’s a societal taboo. Young people in Madagascar who want information turn to their peers; the internet and social media are also regularly used in big cities. Accurate and credible information must be available to address this knowledge gap so we can all break out of this damaging silence. And we need to start sex education at school earlier so knowing about effective contraception becomes a usual part of life.
We also need to work with men and boys. Because young men often have control in relationships over the type of contraceptive method used, it is very important to shift attitudes on responsibility for contraceptive arrangements to become a joint responsibility for young couples. We must empower girls and women to exercise their sexual and reproductive health and rights and target boys and men as partners in this effort to enhance open communication. Women shouldn’t be voiceless in deciding to use a means of contraception before having sex.
Though there are some youth friendly services in certain regions of Madagascar, cost can be prohibitive even with a youth discount. More health services should be convenient and confidential for youth, and health-care providers should be trained to better serve youth as trusted and approachable sources of information. Since 2009, a toll-free hotline service was set up to give young people trusted information to make informed choices about safe sex and contraception. The line is accessible from around the country. Nevertheless, a telephone is not accessible for everybody around the nation. Efforts are being made, but we must do more. We must work together to ensure that young people are educated and empowered to talk openly about sex and contraception to erase current misinformation.