Let’s Talk About Sexual Health! - Breaking the Taboo on Sexual and Reproductive Health
From development of natal clinics, to availability of contraceptives in all 187 islands, Maldives has made considerable advances in implementing Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services over the past twenty years.
Yet, in a country characterised by its Muslim culture, it is and has not, been enough to make such services accessible without addressing the taboos surrounding SRH. The stigma associated with discussing sex and sexual health prevent people, particularly the youth, from seeking proper information. This in turn, discourage young people from taking advantage of SRH facilities available, and more importantly, hinder them from being fully equipped with the knowledge, skills and values to make responsible choices about their sexual and social relationships.
In an effort to address this issue, and bring awareness to SRH, the young social leaders in the Maldives Country Office came together at Katti Hivvaru 2016, held annually by the Dhi Youth Movement. An urban youth festival celebrating local art, food, music and literature, Katti Hivvaru provided the ideal environment for UNFPA to engage young people in conversations about SRH under the hashtag “AlhaEhnulaanantha” translated to “are you going to ignore this”.
The canvas wall provided a platform, and a safe space for our young, bright thought leaders to voice their opinion without fear of being judged. “Spread knowledge, not STI’s!” and “Sexual health is not a taboo, it’s a way to build your life” were two among many thought-provoking messages written, confirming there are in fact, many in our community who are aware of, and care passionately about SRH issues.
Fun games created by TV personality Ellen Degeneres called “Heads up” and “5 Second Rule” were adapted to include SRH terms and phrases. This was an effective way of encouraging people to be more comfortable talking about SRH. Many young people returned with friends to play the games. Aside from being a source of entertainment, the games were also educational. One participant was shocked that she did not know anything – “you would think it is all common sense, but I didn’t know any of the answers!”. In actual fact, there were many young people who visited the stall, lacking basic knowledge on reproductive and sexual health information; a participant who played the game said she initially thought that STI was a type of contraceptive. The recent report released by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives confirms the lack of knowledge on sexual and reproductive health among young people.
Dr. Haikal talking to a young woman
Ask the doctor segment was an immediate hit where young people and medical professionals were provided a youth friendly space to seek medical advice on SRH. Dr. Haikal Rahman, specialised in venereology, Dr. Aseel Jaleel, Gynaecologist and Dr. Abdul Malik, specialized in psychosocial health and adolescent health who came in consecutively, to answer the many questions and concerns that required reliable answers to. From what to do with the burst of pimples to what happens when there is a discharge were frequently asked questions. “A lot of young men felt reproductive health is a woman’s issue and some boys did not know what to ask” said Dr Aseel emphasizing the need to bust the myths associated with SRH.
Dr. Aseel meeting two young men
AlhaEhnulaanantha stall at Katti Hivvaru was thus, a great success in creating an open dialogue about sexual and reproductive health. Yet, it was also an important reminder of how there is still more work to be done, to bring information and services on sexual health closer to young people through mainstream political, social and media agendas.