By: Sandra C Amasike
Family planning generally refers to the practice of controlling the number of children in a family and the intervals between their births. This is usually done through different methods, especially for women, ranging from the simple calendar method to voluntary sterilisation and artificial contraception.
Personally, the term ‘Family Planning’ feels a bit inaccurate, because it suggests to young women and teenagers that this is something meant for older or married women. One does not need to have a family in order to use the methods of family planning and it is even advisable to start to learn about these methods before the need arises.
Not enough is taught about safe and effective family planning or sexual/reproductive health in Nigeria, especially to young girls. In schools, places of worship and any other regular gatherings, sex and sexuality is often presented as a taboo topic. It is talked about only in connection to sin and shame and something to feel guilty about. Girls and boys are only taught to abstain.
It is obvious that teenagers and young adults engage in sexual activity. Not teaching safety and not addressing the issue of reproductive health under the guise of ‘committing sin’ we are collectively worsening the situation. Shaming curious adolescents pushes them to finding answers to their numerous questions on sexual health. This may be dangerous because they could turn to unsafe, unwanted sources of information that could be false. Myths are spread and the problem festers.
This refusal to acknowledge that our children are sexual beings and teach them safe sexual practices is a direct cause of the high number sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), unsafe abortions and the deaths associated with them. No matter how uncomfortable parents and guardians may feel broaching the topic of safe sex with their children, it is imperative that they do.
The responsibility does not lie with parents and guardians alone, it is our government’s, and our collective responsibility to ensure safe sex and prevent unwanted pregnancies. Our ministries need to put mandatory, effective, sex and family planning education in our schools’ curriculum. They also need, by mass media, to educate people and let them know that they have various options. As a sexually active person, it is also your duty to learn how to prevent unwanted pregnancies and actively put them into practice. The consequences of a nonchalant attitude towards preventing an unwanted pregnancy is too great a risk to take for a fleeting moment of ‘fun’.
Currently, the most common form of birth control marketed to young people in Nigeria is the male condom. While this is an excellent option as it is affordable, easily accessible and discreetly portable, it leaves our young women’s reproductive health almost solely in the hands of men.
More light needs to be shed on the various other family planning (birth control) methods available; things a woman can do to protect herself from unplanned and/or unwanted pregnancies before they occur.
STER has begun this process with the very informative and enlightening workshop organized on the female condom. There are others; simple devices like the diaphragm and spermicidal creams, as well as hormonal methods such as the daily pills, injections (e.g. depo provera), subdermal implants, vaginal ring, IUCDs etc. all work in different ways to prevent pregnancy. There are so many options available that almost everyone can find an option that would suit their body and lifestyle.
In conclusion, sexual and reproductive health education is a key to the empowerment of millions of girls and women in Nigeria. The various family planning methods should be offered and made accessible to every girl child and woman, irrespective of age, tribe, culture and religion. We need to equip our girls and women with the tools to make the right decisions for their lives. Unplanned and unwanted pregnancies and their often-dire consequences can be avoided.
I hope for a Nigeria where every child is planned for, wanted, cared for and loved. This is a tall dream but we can start somewhere.
“Educate the girl child, educate the nation”