​​​​​​​“Let’s talk about sex baby”: Responding to the Needs of Adolescent Girls and Young Women in Africa in the Digital Age

11th October 2021
International Day of the Girl Child 2021

By Marie-Evelyne Petrus-Barry and Monica Mwai

In todays’ digital world, everything is available online. Information, products, and services. 22% of the African population, can access the world at the click of a button and mobile penetration rate in Sub-Saharan Africa is at 44%. The African Union and the World Bank Group have committed to connecting every African individual, business, and government by 2030. 60% of Africa’s population is <25 years. The young Africans can be seen on the streets of Nairobi, Accra, and Johannesburg, swiping left and right, using this readily available digital technology for entertainment, education, and learning. Often, and unsurprisingly, this pursuit for knowledge is centered around sex.

This phenomenon has though had a less impressive impact on African girls and young women, who continue to be trapped by taboos and restrictive gender and social norms, unable to access accurate sexual and reproductive health and rights information online. The Mobile Gender Gap means only two out of three women in Africa own a mobile phone, and only a third use mobile data regularly. Retrogressive cultural practices and patriarchal norms though are endemic including early marriage, female genital cutting, sexual cleansing, and wife inheritance, exposing them to innumerable risks. STIs, HIV, gender-based sexual violence and teenage pregnancies are commonplace; and complications from pregnancy and childbirth complications remain the leading cause of death among girls aged 15–19 years globally.

Today, as we commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child centered on the ‘Digital Generation’ we want to call attention to the rights’ of the girl child and the unique challenges they face globally. IPPFs Youth Action Movement, a peer-led advocacy platform for young people aged 10-24 years, is showing us how the growing technological space is slowly permitting adolescent girls and young women to access digital devices and seek information about their bodies, menstruation, pregnancy prevention, peer pressure, love, pleasure, relationships, contraception and safe abortion. This became more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated the vulnerabilities of girls and women.

In Nigeria, the Planned Parenthood of Nigeria  – began delivering sexual reproductive health services using several digital and online platforms including: Short Message Service (SMS), Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Zoom and direct telephone calls. These platforms offered accurate, live interactive information and educational sessions, one-to-one consultations and respective referrals. Young people are additionally reached through the Youth Connect website (https://youthconnect.ppfn.org) and ‘The PPFN e-Health App’ which were both co-designed by young people.

In Benin, the Association Béninoise pour la Promotion de la Famille introduced online comprehensive sexuality educations sessions, in response to school closures, based on the IPPF’s Framework for CSE: gender, sexual and reproductive health and HIV, sexual rights and sexual citizenship, pleasure, violence, diversity and relationships.

In Togo, the Association Togolaise pour le Bien-Etre Familial launched ‘InfoAdoJeunes’, a multi-functional app that was developed for and by young people, providing critical information about sexual and reproductive health in a fun and engaging manner. The 8 navigation tabs: sexuality education, the menstrual cycle, teleconsultation, web TV, games and quizzes, a chat forum, contraception, and a tab where users can ask an experts questions in real-time.

These initiatives are proving to be very successful, and feedback, in particular from the young women and girls, has been very positive! Quick, timely, private, online access to information and consultations around sexual health is fun, convenient, non-judgemental and protects their privacy. A win-win all around!

We echo UNFPA: To secure an equal future, girls need equal access to digital tools and information. This is why, on this international day of the Girl Child, IPPF’s renews its commitment and call on governments and support to invest in digital technology to ensure adolescents and young girls in Africa can easily access high-quality, accurate information around their sexual and reproductive health and are empowered to make informed decisions about their bodies and their futures.

Marie-Evelyne Petrus-Barry is the Regional Director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Africa Region (IPPFAR) and Monica Mwai is a Youth Intern within the Communications Team.

The International Planned Parenthood Federation Africa Region (IPPFAR) is one of the leading providers of quality sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services in Africa and a sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) advocacy voice in the region.

Read this article in French here.

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