Wednesday April 26 2017

Young women’s freedom and choices amid talk of contraceptives, morals

By Johnson Okwera

The Ministry of Health, a few months ago, mooted a proposal to introduce contraceptive use by children as young as 10 years. Similarly, the East African Community Legislative assembly has drafted a bill— the EAC Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Bill 2017, which is at committee stage, and also seeks to legalise abortion.

This proposal was welcomed by outrage from religious leaders, school administrators, parents and a wider community.
By and large, many argue that this has moral tenets. This has tickled me to share my opinion on the females, who are beneficiaries of achievements of women movements: with more freedom, opportunity and choice than their mothers or grandmothers.

Simply, they are self-conscious, liberated, self-determined individuals with careers, sexual freedoms, and choice.
Contemporary girls can be as profane as boys, are sexually frank, girls talk in casual and expletive-laced manner stereotypically attributed to men.

Ironically though, to my optimistic expectations, it is bitterly disappointing to only discover that there is a general gradual shift by many young women from improving one’s character through good work, to improving one’s body through tattooing, piercing, hip enlargement, breast enhancement, make-ups.

By the time young girls reach their late twenties, many complain that all the good men are “taken”. Some single young women find it easier to hook up with different people for different purposes. Comradeship has replaced courtship and marriage as a preferred path to intimacy.

To use a political metaphor, the aspiration to union has been abandoned for the more modest goal of confederacy.
Of course growing up has never been easy for girls, and it is more prolonged and perilous than ever before.

Puberty begins as early as eight, first sexual intercourse can begin at 15-17; and women remain single and sexually active into their middle or late twenties treading through rough roads in this period.

As noted by Uganda Police’s annual crime report 2013, sexual abuse is alarmingly high with an average of 26 young girls defiled every day. In 2006 alone, more than half (53 per cent) of women ages 20–49 were married before 18, which is the legal age of marriage.

Throughout the world, marriage is regarded as one of the key events in most people’s lives, a milestone in adult life, and a moment of celebration.

The right to exercise the choice of a marriage partner has long been clearly spelt out in international human rights instruments and other national laws. Sadly, the enabling legislation has not helped thus far.

Many girls, and a smaller number of boys, still enter marriage without any chance of exercising their right to choose.
A rough consensus however exists on what makes growing up hard for girls today: first; the media is saturated with sexually explicit images and misogynistic messages.

The tabloids and TV programmes assume every girl is focused on herself and her sex life, rather than herself style, working up to pay for family bills and making communities better-putting smiles on disadvantaged households and families in rural communities and further portrays the girls as those that ignore any topic of civic, religious, or intellectual seriousness.

Second, the sexual evolution and the availability of the pill; which relives many scavenging men of any significant burden of responsibility for the negative consequences of infidelity and unprotected random sex.

Third, the high rate of family break-up and dysfunction; the erosion of adult supervision. Puberty is now fraught with danger and anxiety. Young girls and boys alike are at greater risk for early and traumatic sexualisation, often by adult men and women.
Based on the statistics, it should sound like a warning bell to everyone with a stake of preparing a future for children and preparing children for the future to think twice on medicalisation of girls’ sexuality ranging from a host of products and technologies like birth control and abortion, hormone replacement therapy, and cosmetic surgery being offered to ward off or manage what is natural.

Rather, more emphasis should be placed on self-management which empowers girls to stay healthy, safe, and in-charge of their life. This will go a long way in enabling the girls to protect themselves from predatory males.

Without doubt, more unnatural mystique and increase in the arc of the bow before releasing the arrow to the target needs to be devised less we continue to see the millennial continue to look at adult life with a full measure of fear and trembling and reversals of stubborn statistics on especially girls such as daily HIV/AIDS infections, procurement of unsafe abortion, school drop outs and child marriages amongst other vices will be a far cry to wipe off.

Mr Okwera is a teacher and a Master’s student of Local Governance and Human Rights.