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Story and Perspective

Empowering Students to Avoid Pregnancies, Making My Sister Proud

This blog was originally written in French and translated into English.

Zeynab headshotI counted more than 20 pregnancies—all unplanned.

When I was in secondary school, I went from class to class and counted all the teenage girls who were pregnant. I wanted to hear about their experiences.

I stood in front of these girls, listening to their stories. One after another, they said, « I did not know about contraception. »

Through their stories, I’d convinced my principal to grant me permission to give educational talks on sexuality and contraception to my fellow students.

This was my first foray into sexual and reproductive health advocacy.

And I thought about my sister.

My Sister, Farida

The unfortunate fate of my sister, Farida, inspired this early advocacy work.

When my older sister was 14, and I was just 11, she became unexpectedly pregnant. My sister was in school at the time, but was forced to drop out. My father was so upset with Farida, he sent her to live with my aunt. She had a difficult pregnancy at my aunt’s house, and she died one month later. Her baby boy, Abdoul Kader, survived. Abdoul is now nine years old without a mother.

My sister’s story is not an anomaly in my country. In Burkina Faso, discussions about sexual and reproductive health are taboo. Our country’s Demographic and Health Survey reveals that only 10% of young people use contraception either because of ignorance, lack of information, or socio-cultural constraints.

We can change this.

Inspired to Advocate

As an advocate, I want to make sure other young women and girls in Burkina Faso do not have to endure the pain and hardships my sister did. I want to inform them about the benefits of using contraception. And I want to push my country to grant young people easy access to a full range of contraceptive methods — for free.

To make this a reality, we all need to advocate and gain support at multiple levels.

First, we need to reach youth themselves, because they are the first to be affected. We must also engage influential religious and customary leaders. Finally, we must push government, nongovernmental and civil society organizations to make sure sexual and reproductive health services are youth friendly—that is, accessible, affordable, confidential, and provided without bias.

My Seat at the Decision-making Table

I recently attended a regional meeting in Ouagadougou co-hosted by Pathfinder and its E2A Project, and the Ouagadougou Partnership Coordination Unit, and supported by USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Merck/MSD.

This was my chance to share and defend my positions—to make my voice heard by representatives of my country’s ministry of health, nongovernmental and civil society organizations from Burkina Faso and the eight other Ouagadougou Partnership countries.

I needed to make the most of this opportunity.

The day before deliberating with these representatives, I attended a pre-meeting workshop for youth advocates like me. We talked about barriers young people face across the region—what stops them from freely accessing contraception.

High prices for contraception. Misinformation spread through social networks to youth. Cultural taboos around adolescent sexuality. Biased service providers.

We familiarized ourselves with our countries’ Costed Implementation Plans—plans and budgets—for family planning, asking ourselves if they incorporate evidence-based practices that address those barriers.

The next day, I joined my friends who are fellow youth leaders from Burkina—Géneviève Tarnagda, Mohamed Zerbo, and Laure Ouedraogo—youth advocating on behalf of other Burkinabe youth. We sat side by side with senior decision makers in my country to review Burkina Faso’s draft Costed Implementation Plan for Family Planning.

Those officials walked away from the table with recommendations from Géneviève, Mohamed, Laure, and me that they can incorporate into the final version of the plan. If they didn’t before, they now know that youth in Burkina Faso need:

  • Easy access to the full range of contraceptive methods including the most effective ones—long-acting reversible implants and IUDs
  • Sex education, whether they are in or out of school
  • Opportunities to be involved in the development and implementation of the national Costed Implementation Plan for Family Planning

The meeting was like going to school for me. And it is just the start. The experience provided me with a real foundation for my advocacy in the future.

I think my big sister would be proud.

Zeynabou Bere, 25, serves as a youth leader through a network led by the International Planned Parenthood Federation in Burkina Faso. She is also a student at l’université polytechnique privée Shalom IPS de Ouagadougou, and she is studying communications and journalism.

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