While the COVID-19 pandemic had the world in it’s grasp, it did not stop Mateenah’s work in creating community and promoting access to family planning and safe abortion services in Ghana. Read along, as she shares the experiences that fired this passion and how her work has offered a healing journey of her own.
I was raped and got pregnant as a 15-year-old. My experience from antenatal visits and the stigmatization I faced during childbirth heightened my zeal to reduce teenage pregnancy and help the youths make informed choices when it comes to their sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR). I use many approaches to achieve these goals but family planning is the major one. The young urban women’s movement is in Kpobiman, a suburb of Accra, the capital of Ghana. We use capacity building workshops, focus group discussions, and community engagements to educate the youth on SRHR. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic most of our activities are on hold and most of our meetings are online.
About two(2) years ago, I was harassed sexually at my place of work. The situations following that incident moved me to form the “Sugar Circle” with other victims of sexual harrasment, which indicents have sky rocketed during the pandemic when the home was no longer a “safe space”. In the circle, we sensitise the public on various forms of harassment and advocate for the ratification of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 190 which talks about the elimination of violence and harassment in the workspace.
'I use many approaches to achieve these goals but family planning is the major one.'
We have also been adapting and overcoming challenges to deliver family planning in a few different ways. We educate the public and the youths about family planning in person, through social media, in communities, schools, and churches. We inform them about ‘abstinence’, which we consider as the first choice and best family planning method as it delays sex among youth. We also inform them about ‘condom use’, the second best family planning method as it is the only double barrier method to prevent both unintended pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). For those who are interested to know more, we go through other family planning methods with experts’ help for decision making. My organisation also lobbied and acquired a ‘’youth friendly centre’’ in my community. We lobbied for that because a survey we conducted showed that the major reason why young people did not visit the existing ones was because they were distant and operated by adults. We have a call number to guide young people who need counselling on sexual reproductive health and are currently working on making it toll free. My organisation also has liaison with external organizations like Marie Stopes to provide safe and comprehensive abortion care. Among us, the survivors share their experiences to empower other people. Anonymity is used when necessary.
Personally, I have distributed free condoms to my peers and whoever reaches out for it especially during the pandemic when movement was limited. I bought some of the condoms myself, but some were given for free to me because people are aware of what I do on campus and in the communities. I also run a sexual reproductive health club on campus that help students stay informed to help them make informed decisions on their body.
'Helping people go through what I went through and beyond has helped me heal from my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by raising my self esteem and building up my courage to share my stories.'
In 4 years, we saw that the teenage pregnancy rate has reduced from 70% to 15% in our 10 communities of work/implementation. Even among married people and some adults, unintended or unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortion has also reduced especially due to confidenciality, affordability of service, and adequate information.
Helping people go through what I went through and beyond has helped me heal from my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by raising my self esteem and building up my courage to share my stories.
About the Author: Mateenah Naa Djama Odoi, a rape, teenage pregnancy and sexual harrasment survivor, is a 3 time winning student Queen best known for her “Condomise” campaign on tertiary campuses in Ghana. She has an extensive volunteer history and envisions a safe world where young people can make informed decisions pertaining to their sexual and reproductive health and rights.