Breaking Taboos

Afou is a smart, yet shy 15-year-old girl who lives with her parents and siblings in a rural Mali village. Her favorite subjects at school are biology, physics, chemistry and English. She enjoys spending time with her friends and she is determined to complete her studies to become a doctor.

Yet adolescent girls like Afou encounter many obstacles as they approach young adulthood. Historically, cultural customs have prevented adequate education in the areas of female hygiene, sexuality and reproductive health during these crucial years. Such basic knowledge is often not passed from mothers to daughters because such subjects are considered taboo. The consequences of this lack of communication are unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Afou in her school yard

In addition, many young girls face the hardship of early or forced marriage — a dire situation that robs them of their childhood. In fact, teenage girls under the age of 16 are often forced by their parents to get married, which means they must leave school and any hopes of achieving a meaningful education are thwarted.

At age 13, Afou’s father wanted her to marry a man that she did not know. She disliked the idea of leaving school and not being able to play with her friends. Afou’s dreams of becoming a doctor were dashed and her future looked bleak.

However, in 2016, Save the Children implemented an Adolescent Development program in Afou’s village to combat these problems, raise awareness and enable adolescents to develop and grow to their full potential. The program provided courses in sexual and reproductive health while at the same time informs the community on the effects of early child marriage.

In addition, the program’s Peer Educators guide teens on how best to manage relationships with peers and parents through various activities and presentations. By 2018, the program reached 13,283 adolescents including 6,875 girls. As a result, the rates of teen pregnancy went down substantially. “Now the program is on track, and the awareness has paid off,” explains a peer educator.

Afou and her Peer Educators

Afou’s outlook brightened, too. She invited her parents to participate with her in various sketches and awareness skits held in the public square of the village and at school. This training gave her confidence to continue the discussions at home, and she soon persuaded her father to give up on the idea of an early marriage.

“No girl from our family will leave school. The mistakes we did in the past, will no longer be repeated; I am proud of the strong girl she has become today,” proclaims Afou’s Uncle Issa.

Afou and her Uncle Issa

Afou now collaborates with peer educators to help and advise other adolescents in her village. She is also preparing for her high school entrance exam. “The Adolescent Development [Program] has positively impacted my life and changed my parents mind. I love this program that helped me to reach grade 9. May God bless the work of Save the Children.”

Save the Children Team in Yemen Recognized for Family Planning Program Achievements in a Humanitarian Setting

Written by Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children

Yemen is currently experiencing the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. More than two-thirds of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance, with one-third in acute need. Of the 22.2 million people in need, more than five million are women of reproductive age, including an estimated half a million pregnant women. Before the current crisis escalated in March 2015, the average fertility rate was four children per woman and the lifetime risk of maternal death was one in sixty. In only 30 other countries do women face a greater chance of dying due to complications of pregnancy or during childbirth. Access to family planning is limited with only 20 percent of women using a modern contraceptive method and a high unmet need for contraception of 33 percent.

In the dire context in Yemen, Save the Children staff work tirelessly to support children and their families, and we are so pleased that our family planning team that includes was recognized for the work they do in the face of tremendous adversity. At the International Conference on Family Planning, our Yemen team was awarded an Excellence in Leadership for Family Planning Award for their “significant contributions to the family planning field.”

Since the beginning of 2013, and through the escalation of the crisis, our reproductive health program has reached nearly 60,000 new family planning users through support to 16 health facilities in Hodeida and Lahj Governorates through funding from private foundation. The program has also expanded access to long-acting reversible contraceptives (intrauterine devices and implants) that are more effective than other methods and are often a good choice in humanitarian settings where supply chains may be disrupted. This high quality work was leveraged to secure a new two-year award for Save the Children from the U.S. Agency for International Development to strengthen family planning services in Yemen.

In addition to the recognition of our Yemen team, other Save the Children teams from Egypt humanitarian response for Urban Refugees in Cairo and Mali were recognized for their excellent work by winning “best poster” awards during the conference. Our submission was one of the twelve (out of 325 applications) named a finalist of the Quality Innovation Challenge sponsored by the Packard Foundation for a concept to pilot a digital, interactive contraceptive decision-making tool for young people in acute humanitarian emergencies in Somalia and Yemen. Through 41 posters and presentations, our staff demonstrated the positive impact our family planning programs have on the lives of children, adolescent girls, women and their families around the globe.

To learn more about how family planning saves lives and our presence at the International Conference on Family Planning, click here.