My first question to young girls when educating them on their reproductive health is – why do you think we talk about this? I usually get a variety of answers, but typically they answer by telling me that they already know everything. It is clear through our pre-survey (which is filled out in our initial group) that this is not the case. In my experience, youth answer this question in this particular way not because they know everything but more out of embarrassment or shame they have been taught surrounding the topic. This is a barrier that we try hard to reverse. Reproductive health, just like puberty, is a complex subject. It is the physical, mental and social welfare involving to the reproductive health system.
So, why does the YWRC talk about this? Because it’s everyone’s right to know what is going with our bodies. The more that it is understood, the more we are prepared to deal with the ongoing changes.
Young women typically first get involved with the YWRC through our Problem Solving groups within the school system. In this program, we focus on the YWRC’s core topics.
1) The YWRC first educates young women on the importance of having healthy self-esteem and body image. It is important that they know how to love themselves before they can have healthy relationships.
2) The girls then learn about healthy friendships and relationships.
3) Since our women are facing subsequent changes both physically and emotionally, it is only appropriate that we end with reproductive health.
By the sixth week of group we have cultivated a safe space for girls to share their experiences, questions and/or concerns. This week is one of my favorite weeks, because this topic can sometimes be portrayed in a shame-based approach. We want all young women to be well informed about reproductive health and feel it is equally as important to celebrate their bodies. Impulsivity of the brain is explained so understanding the ramifications of acting on these impulses may have consequences; however, it is also just as important to discuss how natural and normal these changes and feelings are.
The YWRC is open and honest with our approach when teaching about reproductive health. The young women we serve gain knowledge through researched based curriculum and resources. The topics covered during the group are surrounding the changes the body goes through. The youth become familiar with their basic anatomy, menstrual cycle, preventive health and common misconceptions. If appropriate and applicable, pregnancy prevention, contraceptives and STI/HIV may be introduced and discussed. By using reproductive health games and activities, facilitators are able to break the common embarrassment barrier that we often face. The girls become more relaxed which in turn leads to more discussion and questions.
To conclude the reproductive health conversation, teens are provided the opportunity to submit (through an anonymous question box) any questions that have not been answered or if they need clarification. Young women know that we embrace questions and concerns.
Through education and advocacy, it is my hope that caregivers, teachers, our community and society will start to avail and accept this pivotal phase instead of circumventing it.