By Osaigbovo Iguobaro
The phrase knowledge is power has
become an endless debate about reproductive health, culture and religion in a fast-changing world.
What are the associated factors and challenges in information dissemination? What are the possible ways to understand the perception of people and how to achieve behavioural change? In that sense, effective communication skills and awareness creation — correlation with the theme for 2021 World Contraception Day, “Be safe, not sorry”.
Adolescent and young adults who lack access to the right information, find it difficult to navigate the natural course in life and sometimes rely on their peers for counsel, which could lead to unplanned pregnancy, severe health consequences or even death in some cases.
Mr. Akin Jimoh, Programme Director, Development Communications (DevComs) Network, in a press release to mark this year’s World Contraception Day, quoted World Bank data (2020)that women and girls make up about 49% of the total population in Nigeria. In other words, for gender equality to be achieved, the needs of half of the population of the country need to be prioritized.
Sharing knowledge on how to tackle the demand and supply barriers on the use of contraception and safe and acceptable family planning methods bother on the social norm, perception, lack of skills and the lack of efficacy, often prevent people from attaining behavioural change in Reproductive Health equation. Certainly, it is easy to market products like contraceptives than behaviour for people to make an informed decision.
Who are the target audience that seek information on use of contraception? How many people who seek information on safe sex? What is the age group of people who voluntarily accept counseling and how they respond to messaging?
Religious and Cultural barriers must be identified by stakeholders in search of the roles they can play along the spectrum of behavioral change, which is a collective responsibility of everyone.
At a stakeholders’ dialogue to build community support for youth access to contraceptives, an Islamic Cleric, Malam Nurudeen Asunojie, recommended honest communication at the home front, and charged religious leaders and parents to spend quality time with their children and act as caretaker for their basic needs for their wellbeing and healthy living instead of pushing the responsibilities of parenting to school authorities alone.
“You do not need a standing army to do this or legislation to achieve it, these are basic ethical issues. Get the Child to identify the fact fear can enslave you, fear can destroy you and the same fear can give you the necessary courage to confront things in life.
“A lot of parents do not communicate with their children. They wake up in the morning, get dressed and enter the vehicle. Most times, it is in the vehicle that you are doing some supplications that you couldn’t do.
“You drop your children in school. The attention that they get is a remnant. You pick them up at the end of the day when they are fagged-out after they had stayed back for lessons. You do not do so because you think it is productive hence it is convenient to pick them at that hour.
“So, when you are taking the children home at night, you start asking the children, what did you do today? I hope it was good? All of that is about ego massaging. It is not about the well-being of the child. These challenges make it difficult for people to communicate effectively to their society.
“So, we must now begin to take up our duties. Get the schools to become interested in the well-being of the children. Yet, getting the schools to become interested is not the totality.
“Most of the sensitization that we are required to do are centred around the whole issue of fear. Life is not about wanting to be another person. It is about being you, and your first responsibility is to do what is best for you”, according to him.
Asunojie also lamented the stigma adolescent and women of child-bearing age who do not have access to safe Reproductive health services and its associated risks. “What will people say about me? Will they continue to accept me? I am going to face rejection?”.
“And that is what you find with most Nigerian parents. What will the works say in this Community that it was my daughter who became pregnant outside marriage. So, you are not talking about the well-being of that child, but about the fear of being rejected.
“There is a dearth of discussion. We need the media and more voices to enable Children to find the courage to say, ‘Daddy or Mummy, a boy said he wants to be my boy friend. So, that will not sound as a taboo. Even if the person wants to react and say how dare you say that to me? The girl will find the courage to say, Daddy, do I go into it? All of this has to do with the issue of courage and conquering the whole issue of fear”, the Cleric stressed.
Mrs. Grace Ese Obakina, a parent, reiterated that the family unit as the bedrock of every nation and a centre point for information dissemination in Nigeria, which could send parents and caregivers scurrying for the rulebook for direction.
“We should go back to the culture of catching them young. Parents should try to educate their children on things that will make them sexually wise. Starting from the very prefix. We should as parents create an enabling environment for communication.
Obakina explained that parents should ensure that they bond with their children. “Without bonding, even the education that you want to give is dead on arrival. Let us begin to explore the opportunities to impact and build trust for easy communication”, she said.
She also expressed reservation that “at the time parents and guardians begin to give our Children stiff rules, we gradually begin to miss the track. I am not saying that Children should not be disciplined when they misbehave, but it must be meant to correct them.
“For instance, there are some music that are not played at home, there are some drama that parents do not watch at home with their children. But they (Children) sing it perfectly at home. What does that mean? Therefore, why not allow them to know that these things exist. But, explain to the children to know the reasons why they should understand that they are not permitted to get involve. Outright denial of certain information about adolescent and youth life in modern times could make some children and young adults to behave like loose dogs that behave funny.
“We should begin to create a foundational Knowledge and build trust in our Children so that whatever is communicated by parents can sink in. When you want to start communicating with Children, do not make it a stiff neck.
“Don’t raise topic or ask your Children direct questions. Do not probe into their lives unnecessarily because there is no set time for discussion. Some could tell you, what is she trying to know. Rather, let them discuss something about their schools that is a bit relative.
“As a parent, click up a topic and you will discover that when they want to talk about their colleagues, they will talk more. In so doing, as a parent, you will know that they are involved in and are likely going to fall prey for peer pressure and then, you can control them and achieve set goals.
Dr. Bright Oviovokukor, chairman, Edo State Technical Working Group for Adolescent, Youth Health & Development (TWGAYHD), identified the risk factors across the spectrum of communication at the family unit as key to achieving behavioral change.
He recommended that health workers, patent medicine vendors and other Stakeholders who have contact with adolescent and young people to imbibe the attitude of youth friendliness when young people seek information about contraceptive from them.
“We should know the level of knowledge our children have acquired. Parents should also be aware that it incurs more cost in raising a female child than the male child.
“Parents also need to be more friendly to their children. I have seen cases when a child says something, the mother will say shut up when they ask question”, he said.
Drawing from Seyi Somefun, Principal investigator, adolescent sexual and Reproductive Health, revealed that 60 percent of the male and 40 percent female population has confidence in buying contraceptive in Kano State while 67 male and 33 percent female undertake the same venture in Enugu while Osun State account for 66 male and 34 female.
According to the demographic survey findings conducted in 2018, which was disseminated at the Stakeholders meeting, Somefun listed people between 15 – 24 years in the survey.
The data indicated among other things that Edo State contributed 53 male and 57 female percentage of people who have confidence in buying contraceptives.
The prevalence rate of female population in Edo State who have confidence in buying contraceptive, caught Stakeholders at the meeting thinking.
The data echoed the earlier concerns raised by some Nigerians that prevalence demand for sexuality education to be included into Nigeria Curriculum towards promoting effective communication messaging strategy towards encouraging safe sex practices which helps to avoid the consequences of infections, unplanned pregnancies, which often lead to unsafe abortion and death, which could complicate issues especially among adolescents and young adults and women of Child-bearing age, which seems not to matter when a woman attains menopause.
Others are worried that if the proposal is allowed to sail through, it may encourage promiscuity among adolescent and Children in a Country where abortion rights and other related matters do not exist for lack of legislation that could have been a defence against stigma and rejection in society arising from unsafe abortion, sexually transmitted diseases and infections.
Yet, Mr. Baruwa Julius who tied into the Statement dialogue on the survey findings of Adolescent and sexual and Reproductive health from South Africa via zoom, said children between ages 10 and 13 have access to sexual education in the Country and recommended same to Nigeria towards a better society.
According to him, adolescent and youths need to have the right information and understand their sexual rights and also talk about their menstrual cycle and share their sexual experiences without being stigmatised.
Dr. Bernard Enonena, Technical Support Lead, TCI, explained that there are no quick fix Reproductive health challenges without collaboration among Stakeholders.
He stated that the catch-up media reportage on Adolescent and youth health has been patchy, with many questions hence the need for media practitioners to break new grounds in mitigating the risks that are associated with awareness creation and advocacy on safe health practices, amid evidence youths with the right knowledge, delay in having sex.
The Representative of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Edo State Chapter, Pastor Peter Omunizua, charged religious bodies and traditional rulers to set up help desks in their various places of worship where Adolescent and youths can seek the right information during counselling towards changing the situation whereby look at contraceptives as fornication accessories.
He assured that when religious and traditional rulers buy into such advocacy, it will help to correct stereotypes and promote healthy conversion towards promoting the rights of women and especially on reproductive health and family planning methods.
Cynthia Adeseye, Adolescent Health Desk officer, Edo State Ministry of Health who moderated the questions and answers segment of the dialogue on ASR, enumerated the importance of safe sexual health practices while Blossom Odiase, a member of Edo youth Parliament, appealed to parents and the Nigerian government to put adequate measures in place towards reducing hunger.
According to her, relentlessly, Nigerian government seems to proceed in the opposite direction. It pursues a stealth strategy to chip away at the standing and reputation of the Adolescent population.
She said many adolescent and youths in the Country susceptible to immoral behaviour and curb the increasing rate of sexual exploitation, adding that some parents in Nigeria who lost their young ones in the process are yet to come to terms with.
Akinlolu Akinpelumi, Head of Operation at Development Communication Network is of the view that DevComs Network will continue to work with the media and urge practitioners to continue to raise awareness on sexual reproductive health including issues of child spacing and its benefits to women, and the overall wellbeing of families in order for society to properly manage its standard of living.
Behaviour change and sex education remain complex issues. It has diverse levels. It is necessary to entity gaps and bias among the communication pillars that promote make people change behaviour through a shared vision on Reproductive health services which the Nigerian urban Reproductive Health initiative seeks to achieve.
The project also seek to tackle the demand and supply barriers and demand barriers, social norm, perception, skills and efficacy that stood in the way and prevent people from attaining behavioural change in addition to psychographic profile and aspirations, beliefs and what the people want at the communal level and across religious denominations and how to assist the people to attain their desire. Adolescents can choose their decisions, but you cannot choose the consequences thereof.