Facing challenges together: Inspiring adolescent girls in Mozambique
Tapping into technology to improve sexual reproductive health among girls
In Sangariveira in the Centre of Mozambique, 30 adolescent girls are just finishing their morning session with their mentor. In a private corner, the girls are sharing stories and experiences. “We were just discussing sexuality and safe sex,” says Esperança Filipe, 19-year-old. “I come here because they’re important topics to discuss: there are many young and underage mothers around here.”
In Mozambique, almost one in two girls are married or in union before 18 years of age leading to school dropouts and teenage, or unwanted, pregnancies. Early onset of sexual intercourse (22% of girls 15-19yrs and 17% of boys initiated sexual activity <15yrs), intergenerational and transactional sex practices are prevalent throughout the country and HIV infections amongst adolescents, especially girls, are on the rise ( 120,000 adolescents are living with HIV of whom 80,000 are girls) Indeed, 46 per cent of girls aged 15-19 are either pregnant or already mothers which places them at greater risk of sexual violence, abuse, stigmatization and isolation besides enduring health complications because their bodies are not ready for childbearing.
For Esperança, the information shared by mentors like Amina Carlos António is vital to improving the lives of young women. “This helps a lot of young people,” she says. “I know this information can help stop early pregnancies, keep girls healthy and keep them in school.”
A role model for adolescents
Amina, 24 years old, has been mentoring adolescent girls (10-19) for two years. The Rapariga Biz programme is a Government-led initiative supported by UNFPA, with support from the Swedish embassy, UNICEF, UNESCO, UN Women and the Youth Association Coalition, that has mobilized tens of thousands of adolescent girls to learn about their sexual and reproductive health and their rights.
“Being a mentor first means being a sister, a mother, a friend and a role model,” says Amina with pride. “It’s important to understand them and make the girls feel comfortable so we can all work together to face challenges in life.”
Amina enumerates some of the major challenges girls in more remote areas often face including access to quality services in health centres: “Sometimes girls don’t get the correct information and are perhaps not treated in a friendly or sensitive way,” says Amina.
“Sometimes I actually go to the centres with the girls. Also, there’s a lack of family support – sometimes fathers or husbands won’t allow them to seek assistance.”
Tapping into technology
One way Amina is helping to both share and learn new information is with UNICEF’s SMS Biz/U-Report platform, an innovative and free-to-use messaging service for young people. Users can take part in polls and also send questions by SMS which will be answered by trained counsellors.
“SMS Biz/U-Report has been really useful. I use it to prepare for the sessions. Sometimes things in books perhaps aren’t clear so I’ll just send an SMS to find the answers,” says Amina. “I’ll use this in meetings. For the girls with phones, I show them how to register and I’ll share answers with those who don’t.”
Amina says she’s signed up around 60 girls to the platform and they are all regular users. One such user is Esperanca. “I use SMS Biz/U-Report,” she says. “I participate in the polls and answer the questions. It’s very useful because I get to learn about a lot of topics.”
Inspiring the next generation
The work of Amina is inspiring the next generation of girls to become mentors. 16-year-old Melane Gonsalves has been coming to the sessions for two years and plans to become a mentor soon. “I always share things I learn here with friends at school,” she says. “I feel like I belong here and I hope to do what Amina does because I really value her support.”
Reaching the most vulnerable adolescents both face-to-face and with innovative technologies is one of the ways young women like Esperança and Melane are being helped to make a real difference to their lives and of those around them.
Seeing the benefits both her work and SMS-Biz brings to girls also continues to inspire Amina to keep up her mentoring work. “It’s so moving to see young women like Melane who were once too shy to speak now speak up on really important issues,” says Amina with no shortage of emotion. “The difference this work makes really touches me and it’s really priceless. I have to stop talking now before I start crying!”