By: Dalia Al-Eryani, one of the Women Deliver 100 Young Leaders
A little over a year ago, I was working to raise awareness regarding the safe age of marriage in a small rural village in the mountains of Yemen. One of our biggest supporters was, Fatima, an old woman from the community who hosted our team meetings in her home every month with her family. Fatima couldn’t have been that old really, but the hardship she had endured in her life left her looking like a fragile old woman with sun-kissed cracked brown skin, tired eyes and a big heart. One morning our meeting ended early and she sat down to talk to us. She hugged her legs to her chest and began telling us why she believed in what we were doing.
She had, like most Yemeni girls of her generation, been married at 8. Having been married so young, she had no knowledge of the existence of contraceptives and felt it was improper to inquire. The first time she went through labor, she locked herself up in a room and did not come out until she gave birth-on her own. She recounted how embarrassed she was at the thought of someone seeing her give birth and how at the time it made more sense to go through it alone. She didn’t know that she could have been injured or worse, died. All she knew was that she had to be modest, never complain or ask any questions, and endure a woman’s hardships on her own.
As she grew older she began to learn of all the family planning methods she had not had access to as a young girl. She felt a lot of regret but knew that the culture dictated that young girls don’t ask “improper” questions. Her husband could have asked those questions but he never did and they kept having children. She realized early on that if she wanted to make a change it would have to be through her own children. She had one daughter and brought her up to be the village health worker, a female role model with a small family and a career. It was her way of “going against the culture” by making sure that her daughter empowered young people with contraceptive and family planning information that she never had access to.
Her daughter then joined in and explained the many misconceptions and myths the community held about contraceptives. Perhaps the most common myth was that once a woman takes a form of contraception (especially the pill) she will no longer be able to bear children, ever. Although there are living proofs in the community that this isn’t true, the fear of never having children is much greater than the fear of having too many. The community becomes even more skeptical when the health center changes brands of pills. Although this is simply an issue of what country/company donated the contraceptives, it is negatively viewed by the community and she, as the village health worker, has to gain their trust all over again.
Fatima joined us that morning to provide gratitude and support for the important work we were doing but instead she taught us all a lesson. Young people have the right to contraceptive information and services but we live in a culture that goes against this right. To initiate change, we must find champions, mothers and grandmothers who have seen the suffering that occurs from a lack of information, and empower them to empower others. Only through people like Fatima and her daughter will the community learn to trust contraceptives and to make sure youth are comfortable enough to ask questions. Only through community models like Fatima’s daughter will the community begin to see that finding a balance between having a family and having a career is possible. It is our duty as youth within our communities to find these champions, lean on them for support, and together plant the seeds of change.
This blog is part of a series on youth perspectives to celebrate World Contraception Day run by Women Deliver.
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Flickr photo by: la_imagen