Many young people have to find their way around without proper information about sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), which is essential for their development. In addition, girls encounter harmful gender norms and practices that prevent them from participating in important decision-making. Break Free! aims to change this. Rose Dolo, Robert Athewa and Judith Panjani participate in the program and talk about their vision and goals.
Rose Dolo, Project Lead for Break Free! At Plan International Mali: “With Break Free! we want to ensure that the voice of girls and young women is heard. Young people must be able to exercise their rights. So we will involve them in the program from the start and they will help lead the process. Through advocacy, we hope to change practices and policies.
We will also provide training and information about sexual and reproductive health and rights. Child marriage is one of the main topics we will be dealing with. In Mali, for example, girls are allowed to marry when they reach the age of 16. We hope to change this law because we need to protect girls and young women from harmful practices. I am very pleased that FAWE (Forum of African Nannies) and SAT (SRHR Africa Trust) are our partners in this program so that we can join forces.”
Girls and young women should have the opportunity to become teachers, pilots or doctors
‘Girls should be allowed to develop’
Robert Athewa, FAWE Coordinator in Kenya: “Our main goal is for young people to exercise their right to live free from FGM, child marriage and teenage pregnancy, with the support of civil society organizations. This is why we work with different partners to strengthen the voice of girls and young women. We are now in the early stages of the program.Due to the impact of COVID-19, we have experienced some delays.
We will work with various civil society organizations and youth-led civil society organizations to strengthen capacities, influence policy implementation and hopefully change legislation. It is very important for girls to go to school and be able to fulfill their dreams.” Rose: “Girls and young women should have the opportunity to become teachers, pilots or doctors, to develop themselves and make their own decisions in life. The idea here in Mali is that women should be at home and take care of their husbands.”
Judith Pangani, SAT Program Coordinator in Malawi: “Through youth participation, we want to play a role at the community, district, regional and national levels. We are also using a transformative gender approach; we want to change social norms so that women and girls can exercise their rights and seize opportunities to be heard Their voices It is important not to leave anyone behind; for example, girls or young people with disabilities are often excluded. They also have the right to information and access to sexual and reproductive health. Therefore inclusiveness in program implementation is essential.
We will support community members and youth. They really need to be up front. Therefore, we will expand their skills and knowledge and train them on how to pressure and tactics they can use to persuade officials. We will meet and exchange information through awareness campaigns and meetings. We also have our Youth Wyze Facebook page, which is used to promote sexual and reproductive health services among young people. And we have youth hubs, physical spaces where young people can mobilize and talk to each other.”
We are building a network
Rose: “We are now selecting female activists to help lead ‘liberation’ projects in the different countries we work in. We are building a network and working with local organizations to reach girls and teachers in schools. Several women’s associations are also active where the rights of girls and women are discussed.
You must first understand your rights before you can move rights issues from the local area onto the regional and national agenda. We need to get support for our goals so we can change laws and policies.” Robert: “We are now talking to ‘Young Champions’ and organizing meetings where they can talk about sexual and reproductive health issues. This way we are aware of what is going on. Of course, the use of social media and other media such as TV channels is also important to reach a larger scale.”
Girls and women are high on the agenda
Rose: “Here in Mali we face different challenges. There is a lot of political uncertainty and instability. So we really need to make sure that the rights of girls and young women are a priority on the agenda. Here in Mali the society is still very conservative and patriarchal. We need more. of female leaders. Judith: “In Malawi we have high numbers of child marriages and teenage pregnancies. There is a general lack of knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and sexuality. Prevailing gender norms and attitudes undermine the active participation of women in Malawi.
This hinders the growth of girls and young women. How can they participate in decision-making on these topics if they do not have the knowledge? There are still many misconceptions and myths about family planning. For example, some girls think that they won’t be able to get pregnant later if they use contraception now. Child marriage and teenage pregnancy leave many girls out of school, making them even more vulnerable. Especially if this is coupled with a lack of parental care or attention. The formation of youth movements is really important. We can support them by connecting them to larger platforms, building their capabilities and improving their education and knowledge.”
Effects of COVID-19
Robert: Although physical meetings usually have a greater impact, fortunately we have been able to adapt to the new Corona situation. We use technology and hold virtual meetings. The coronavirus has also had a major impact on education: schools here in Kenya have been closed for more than a year. Now that schools have opened their doors again, there is a lot of pressure on students and teachers. The school calendar is crowded as school work has to be stopped and the fear of failing their exams. During the lockdowns, not everyone had electricity or Wi-Fi, so it is difficult to take lessons online.”
The coronavirus has had a huge impact on education: schools here in Kenya have been closed for over a year
Robert: “Unfortunately, the Corona pandemic has also led to an increase in the number of cases of gender-based violence in Kenya. Girls were more vulnerable to abuse at home and teenage pregnancies are increasing.” Judith: “In Malawi we have also seen higher rates of child marriage and teenage pregnancy. Implementation of our program has been difficult. During the partial closures, people could not see each other, so youth club sessions and physical meetings with parents, teachers or traditional leaders could not take place. Face-to-face. But we have found innovative ways and organized online meetings. I think we still need to consider the impacts of COVID-19 for the year ahead.”
‘Young people will have a bigger say’
Rose: “I hope that in five years we will see the rights of girls and women on the agenda in Mali. Girls and women can become social and political leaders and play an influential role. I expect that we will also learn a lot from each other, from cooperation with our partners and with young people.” Robert: “Our goal with the program is for young people to be able to stand on their own two feet. Not only in Kenya but also in other countries. We want to empower them so that they can stand up for their rights. We hope to reach a large number of people, of course also by supporting the program in other countries and learn from it.”
Judith: “I hope that at the end of the program there will be the political will to implement laws and policies in line with the BF programme. This is one of the biggest challenges in Malawi at the moment. And that we improve young people’s knowledge and access to sexual and reproductive health and girls’ education, so that there are a number of Fewer child marriages and teenage pregnancies. I am sure that with better policies and laws, with more youth-led organizations and inclusive social movements, young people will have a greater say.” Robert: “We are working hard at various levels to implement an anti-FGM policy. We hope to implement this soon in line with the President’s plans to end FGM by 2022. The BF works closely with existing structures and the involvement of the media, especially local broadcasters, has been essential in raising awareness “.
The fact that I am a young woman in this position is indeed an important step
Acting is necessary
Robert: “It is very important that young people are represented. That is why we attended the last African Girls Conference in Niger, where the rights and well-being of girls were discussed, with the aim of eliminating harmful practices in Africa. Sharing ideas and learning from each other is essential. I am very proud that we have Now a gender technical working group in Kenya, which we co-chair with the Ministry of Education, and it’s a first within the ministry. This is a huge win for Break Free! I’m really looking forward to continuing together as a team.”
Judith: “I am very proud of my position as the Brick Free! Country Coordinator. The fact that I am a young woman in this position is really an important step. This way I can be a role model for girls and boys; they can see that this is possible. Acting is so important.” I understand what it means to be a girl and a young woman. I grew up in a village, so I bring my own experience and use it. It gives me a lot of energy to be a part of this program. Even if I change something for just two or three girls, that would be great!”
Liberation! It is a five-year program (2021-2025) from Plan International and the African organizations SRHR Africa Trust (SAT) and Forum for African Babysitter (FAWE), in strategic partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We also work closely with the Rozaria Memorial Trust in Zimbabwe and the KIT Royal Tropical Institute. The program is implemented in nine African countries: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Sudan and Zambia. With the help of local civil society organizations and youth groups, we are committed to the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people.