UNMISS police officers in Torit organize forum to discuss controversial sex education for girls

unmiss south sudan eastern equatoria state torit hospital unpol sex education female reproductive health contraceptives taboo

Overcoming cultural taboos was a key topic when UN police were discussing reproductive health issues with women in Torit. Photos: Samira Y. Salifu/UNMISS

11 Mar 2022

UNMISS police officers in Torit organize forum to discuss controversial sex education for girls

Samira Y. Salifu/Filip Andersson

EASTERN EQUATORIA STATE - The words “sex education” have the potential to make some parents and biology teachers across the world shiver, blush, or both. Add a cultural context where mentioning contraceptive methods is more or less taboo and the task can become too daunting to take on.

“I will not deny that our African culture makes it extremely difficult to have these discussions. In this setting, it is ridiculous to advise your children to use a condom instead of abstaining,” said Mary Manya, midwife and Deputy Matron at the state hospital in Torit. “However, education can play a key role in changing minds,” she conceded.

The more than thirty female community leaders and health professionals gathered by police officers serving with the UN peacekeeping mission for a workshop on female reproduction health had lots to discuss indeed.

With the stakes involved high, seeing as child marriages and early childbearing pose major risks to the health of both delivering teenagers and their new-borns, the key recommendation made by participating medical staff was for mothers to overcome their embarrassment and fear of entering taboo territory.

“You know this is a huge issue, yet mothers need to aptly take on this role and responsibility. They need to develop creative ways of winning over their daughters as friends who will confide in them even on the most sensitive issues,” said Dr. Santino Ikoki, a female director at the hospital.

Her views were supported by Martha Peter, a counsellor at the health facility’s HIV department, who advises young women on safe sex on a daily basis. She feels comfortable having these talks with her own daughter as well.

 “I think the trick is to label these discussions as health talks rather than sex education and hence kind of bypass our cultural context. Of course, when I have these discussions with my daughter, she knows that this is one of my ways to protect her future,” she said.

Her focus on future gains was in line with what Dr. Antoine Niyosenga, who facilitated the workshop on the peacekeeping mission’s behalf, had to say about the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day: “Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow”. It refers, Dr. Niyosenga explained, to the need to remove obstacles – like early marriages and pregnancies – that may stop women from being successful and reaching their full potential.

The peacekeepers concluded their activities by paying a visit to the maternity ward, where they handed over detergents and other useful supplies to the health facility.