Meeting of the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA)
First Lady Jeannette Kagame (2nd left) Speaking At Meeting of the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA)

Parents should break away from traditional fears and openly speak to their sons and daughters about sexual reproductive health, says the First Lady of Rwanda.

Mrs Jeannette Kagame was speaking Wednesday in New York during the meeting of the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA).

The meeting was held on the sidelines of  the 71st UN General Assembly.

“While  we  can  all  agree  that  this  topic  is  still  a  social and cultural taboo for many of us, we cannot afford to let  a  little  discomfort  determine  whether  or  not  we encourage parents, educators, and health professionals  to  talk  about  this  issue  with  our  young girls,” she said.

Mrs Kagame said ignorance on sexual reproduction health among the youth could trigger a health crisis. Sexual reproductive health education matters a lot- it is part of the components that makes youth to be rational.

Referring to research, the First Lady said, “Experience  has  shown  that  their  level  of  comfort,  and knowledge,  on  these  matters has  an  impact  on  their education,  behaviour  and  well-being,  which  in  turn determines  their  ability  to  positively  influence  their own health, and that of future generations.”

There resides the role of parents to “indeed ensure that  our  girls  and  boys  have  access  to  the  best  age-appropriate,   youth-friendly   health   services,   and   to embrace our responsibility to empower them with keen knowledge, pertaining to their sexual and reproductive health.”

This empowerment can be channeled through well-structured and effective initiatives that respond to youth needs.

While outlining such initiatives that respond to the youth needs, the First Lady said, countries should, “take into    account    our    cultural    norms,    and recognizing   the   value   of   prevention    strategies to preclude  health  crises,  that  would  heavily  impact  the future of children on our continent.”

Jeannette Kagame also shared with her counterparts some of her culturally sensitive projects helping girls make informed choices.

The projects are channeled through Imbuto Foundation, a-15 year old charity of which she is chairperson.

They include; the Family Package, the very first initiative of the organization that addressed challenges of pregnant mothers and the families affected with HIV/AIDS. The package would grow to include a youth component relating to voluntarily testing after education on AIDS.

From this youth section of the project would also develop The Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights which was grounded in HIV/AIDS awareness and involved health centers in educating the youth.

Other projects include Mountain Movers, then and the 12+program launched 2  years  ago,  with  the  aim of  providing vulnerable  girls,  aged  10-12,  with  crucial information  on  sexual  reproductive  health.It also equips them with socio-economic and leadership skills to prepare them for adolescence,which is a delicate chapter of their lives.

All these initiatives were successful because of collaboration between the public and private sector.

The First Lady said there is no shortcut, rather African societies should “recognize that it is our responsibility to educate our youth, to make informed decisions  and  adopt  best  practices,  which will  help them  live  the  kind  of  healthy  future,  they  are  so rightfully entitled to.”

At AOFLA, several participants said it’s time for Africans to revise their thinking of sexual reproductive health.

“We can no longer justify denying adolescents access to Comprehensive sex education,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, the UNFPA Deputy Executive Director.

For Irina Bokova, the Director General of UNESCO, “First Ladies have a powerful voice which is crucial for the young girls in Africa.”

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