Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Teenage girls - the focus of this year’s International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October - are often described as the key to a brighter future. However teenage girls can face many injustices: limited access to sexual and reproductive health care, unintended pregnancy, forced early marriage, gender-based violence and limited education.
Providing comprehensive sexuality education and supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights are powerful steps towards gender equality for teenage girls.
To get a different perspective on some of these issues, we spoke to 22-year-old Ekeata Taawa from Kiribati. She currently works as a youth volunteer with the health promotion team at the Kiribati Family Health Association (KFHA).
Can you tell us about your family and your home?
I have five sisters and four brothers and our family is Roman Catholic. My home island is Abaiang, but I went to high school in Teaoraereke, a village on the island of Tarawa. After I finished high school I worked for a private company as a shopkeeper for four months, then I helped my family to take care of their small store.
How did you become involved in volunteering for KFHA?
My aunty told me to apply to become a volunteer at KFHA. She said that she thought I’d be a good volunteer because I used to work with Catholic youth in my village. I’ve been a volunteer for almost one year now.
I like being a volunteer at KFHA because I have a big family, and we have a lot of issues to do with family planning in Kiribati. Also, I like to teach young people about sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), because in my village I think young people have poor knowledge of these issues.
How did you learn about sexual and reproductive health?
We didn’t learn about it at school, because I went to a Catholic school and we weren’t really allowed to talk about it. I learned about sexual and reproductive health from my cousin who is a nurse. She taught me about the problems you can have if you get pregnant too young.
Did your family ever talk to you about these issues?
No we didn’t talk about it much because of my parents’ strong religious beliefs. But now that I’m a volunteer at KFHA, I talk to my family about it. Firstly I talk about condoms – especially to my older brother and his friends in the village who hang around with girls. They’ve started calling me Miss KFHA, or Condom Girl! Secondly, I talk about STIs and HIV, and how they often don’t have any signs or symptoms.
Now they know that SRHR is really important and it’s important to have the choice.
What kind of attitudes do people have about relationships in Kiribati?
Well in my opinion, I think it is both the man’s and the woman’s responsibility to use contraception and protect against STIs. But I think unplanned pregnancies are often blamed on women. I feel sorry for those women who don’t know anything about SRHR. I think it’s our job to go and deliver our message to them. In Kiribati, the man is the most powerful person in the home - but according to me and my partner, we are equal!
Do you think young women feel comfortable visiting KFHA for SRHR services and information?
Yeah of course, because they know that they can easily get help here rather than at the hospital and everything here is confidential. Some feel shy if it is their first time to visit our office but most of them don’t have a problem to revisit our clinic.
If you could give any advice to girls in Kiribati, what would it be?
I’d tell girls about their rights, and about how to practise safe sex, and also about unplanned pregnancy – how they will not be able to complete their education and their lives will change if they become a mother while they are still young.
A big Ko Rabwa (thank you) to Ekeata for her time answering our questions and giving us an insight into the life of girls and young women in Kiribati. Keep up the great work Miss KFHA!
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