Harmful cultures against women
There are several social norms that negatively affect women such as early/forced marriage, marriage by abduction, female genital mutilation (FGM), bride price/dowry, virginity testing, cat-calling, body shaming, and more. Sometimes it can lead to violence if a woman won’t adhere to social standards or a person’s expectations like murder, acid violence, and rape. In some cases, women are programmed to think a certain way and therefore feel like they have to adhere to social standards or else they won’t have value. Some women take extreme measures like cosmetic mutilation and breast flattening or enlarging.
Early or forced marriage is also referred to as child marriage when a girl under 18 is married to an older man. Rural communities are usually the ones that practice this culture. When a young girl is given off to be married she has to give up her education and future career to take care of her husband and kids for the rest of her life. Early marriage is caused by several factors such as traditional, legal, economic, community, religion, and poverty factors. Sometimes, these marriages are formed by abduction, called marriage by abduction. This is when a man can’t pay the necessary payments to offer to the girl’s family and therefore abducts and rapes her. This by default will push her family to get her married to the same guy to avoid the shame that she isn’t a virgin. In some cases, the girl’s parents arrange the abduction when she is resistant to the marriage.
Girls who marry at a young age are highly unlikely to be able to support themselves. Because they don’t have the necessary education and freedom, they are forced to only stay home (taking care of their house and family) and don’t understand all the options that are available to them. One of the leading causes for this is that the community doesn’t see the necessity of a girl continuing her education, they see more value in her taking care of the family
Early/forced marriages have traumatic effects on the mental and physical health of girls. These girls haven’t finished developing physically and emotionally to be prepared for marriage and motherhood. They give birth at a young age when their bodies are fully capable of bearing a child and therefore are at an increased risk of dying during childbirth.
In Ethiopia, the government began taking legal, institutional, and strategic actions to end child marriage. It has a goal of ending child marriage by 2025.
Organizations working on child marriage reduction
There are several organizations fighting against child/early/forced marriages. A couple are:
UNICEF is an international NGO dedicated to helping children all over the world. In Ethiopia, it participates in several programs to help Ethiopia’s youth, one being ending child marriages. UNICEF creates a program that educates girls, families, and communities to show them the damage of child marriage. In Ethiopia, over 15 million girls are child brides, with most of them giving birth in their teenage years. Among these, over 90% don’t return to school.
In the Sidama Regional State, the Hula Woreda is one of the woredas participating in ending child marriage program target woredas, UNICEF supports both technically and financially. It aims to inform girls and enable them to reach out and educate their community to stop child marriage.
- World Vision Ethiopia
World Vision Ethiopia is an international NGO focusing on education, and disaster impact. Economic development, health & nutrition, water, and more. It sim s to eliminate child marriage b 2025 and created the “It Takes a World to End Child Marriage” campaign to gather communities with the help of the government to increase the awareness of the negative effects of child marriage.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
FGM is when a girl’s, usually during her infant years up to 15 years of age, the clitoris is partially or completely removed, including removing the labia minora. There are 3 types; Type involves removing the clitoris; Type 2 involves removing the clitoris and labia minora; Type 3 involves removing the clitoris, labia minora, labia majora, and sewing them together leaving a small hole for menstruation and urination. The most common types are 1 and 2. The procedure is usually performed by a traditional healer, with dull [knives, scissors, razor blades] sometimes, and therefore isn’t completely sanitary. It is performed because of the false belief that this process ensures virginity or protects modesty. FGM causes physical trauma that can lead to life-threatening infections and long-term issues with menstruation, infertility, and issues with childbirth. In addition, it can cause depression and self-esteem issues.
FGM and Health Risks
There are short-term and long-term complications. The short term includes shock, pain, hemorrhage (extreme blood loss), urinary retention (caused by pain, tissue swelling, and fear of urinating on fresh wounds), infection, and fracture (caused by the girl struggling during the procedure), failure to heal, and death.
Long-term complications include difficulty urinating (due to damage to the urethra opening), constant UTI, severe pelvic infections, infertility, vulval abscesses (swollen body tissue containing pus), keloid scars, increased risk of HIV contraction, sex complications, childbirth complications, and psychological complications.
Women who underwent FGM have issues during childbirth like:
- Postpartum hemorrhage
- Episiotomy (a surgical cut made at the opening of the vagina during childbirth, to aid a difficult delivery and prevent rupture of tissues)
- Obstructed labor due to scar tissue
- Resuscitation of the infant
- Inpatient perinatal death
- Postpartum hemorrhage
- Early neonatal death
In Ethiopia, over 25 million girls ad women have experienced FGM. Just like child marriage, the Ethiopian Government has a goal of ending FGM by 2025. It has already created a violation of human rights in Ethiopia’s criminal code since 2004. It is up to society to work together and stop these harmful practices.
Organizations working on FGM reduction
There are a few organizations in Ethiopia that are dedicated to ending FGM.
- Kembatti Mentti Gezimma-Tope (KMG): is one organization that has made enormous strides to tackle this issue. KMG is an Ethiopian NGO that is continuously raising the public’s awareness of the harmful effects of FGM in the Kembatta Tembaro region in theSouthern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR). The organization’s name, Kembatti Mentti Gezimma-Tope, is translated to “Kembatta Women Standing Together.” KMG has been active for 22 years and is responsible for reducing the public’s approval of FGM from 97% in 1997 to less than 5% in 2021.
- Rohi Wedu: is another NGO dedicated to ending FGM located in the Afar region. The organization created a campaign to end FGM and customized its information based on different clan leaders in the Afar region. Rohi Wedu has worked with UNICEF to approach important clan leaders to facilitate “Community Dialogue” sessions to learn the negative effects of FGM and transfer this knowledge to their respective communities.
There are many more organizations working on FGM such as the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Federation of International Obstetrics and Gynaecology (FIGO), African Union (AU), the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and women organizations.
Catcalling is a form of harassment where a stranger makes sexual remarks to a woman as she walks in the street, office, on public transport, and more. Because of this, many women fear walking out alone, especially at night, because they are constantly harassed making them feel inferior. Link to other factsheet for catcalling
Body shaming is a term given when someone makes negative comments, also judgment or comparison, about their own or another person’s body/physical features. The areas of focus can include body weight, size, shape, and attractiveness. Body shaming doesn’t have one specific topic, it can be about anything like being “too skinny”, “overweight”, “not tall/short enough”, and many more. This causes several physical and mental/emotional harm. There are so many conventional standards of beauty, impossible to be met by everyone, that many women take unhealthy measures to “fit in.” This can lead to eating disorders, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, personality disorders, self-injury/harm, and suicide.
Society needs to understand that no two people are the same, everyone has their own body type and is perfect just the way they are. Almost always, a person doing the body shaming is ashamed of their own bodies and projecting to feel better about themselves. If someone wants to change the way they look that is completely fine but it has to stem from the person, not society. People need to stop judging and remain neutral as it doesn’t concern them. It is also necessary that someone speak up when they see a person body shaming themselves or others. If people accept and appreciate their bodies, nothing others say can affect them.
How can we change the narrative?
We must first recognize and understand all the harmful cultural harm to women. Everyone needs to be educated and work together to stop all these harmful practices. In addition, women and men need to come together and discuss these effects on their lives. Because it is only when we are all working together that we can remove these practices.
We all know something about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), but there’s so much more than what meets the eye – or meets our reproductive organs, if you may. Here is a collection of some of the most unknown STI facts that could help you before you entangle with a sexual partner.
- While the risk is low, Sexually transmitted infections can also be transmitted through not just penis-vagina sex but through other forms of sexual activities like oral sex and anal sex.
- There are some types of STIs that can live inside your body without showing any kind of symptoms. Even so, you can still transmit these infections to other sexual partners.
This makes STI’s dangerous even more than they already are because people can transmit them without knowing and that can lead to a lot of people being affected, this is why screening for STIs regularly is strongly advised for people who are sexually active.
- STI’s tend to be worse / more severe on women than men. They are also more frequent on women.
In women, sexually transmitted infections tend to not show any symptoms and then later progress to cause complications. This is especially harmful because most women remain in the dark about having sexually transmitted infections until it’s too late.
- Women can also pass down these infections to their babies if they are pregnant while having STI’s.
This transmission can occur while they are pregnant, during birth, or while breastfeeding. All doctors are supposed to test women for STIs during their first prenatal appointment. If they have an STI, they are recommended for treatment. It is important that a pregnant mother notifies her partner so she won’t contract the STI again.
- Some STIs can increase your risk of having cancer in the future.
The human papillomavirus is a sexually transmitted infection that can get transmitted through contact with bodily fluids. This virus can increase the chance of a woman acquiring cervical cancer. There is an HPV vaccine in Ethiopia, so we recommend women and men to ask their Doctor for this vaccine to prevent HPV and reduce the risk of cervical cancer in women.
- Because of the similarity of the symptoms they can cause, some STIs can oftentimes be grouped together.
Herpes, syphilis, and chancroid are sexually transmitted infections that all-cause blisters around the genital areas, which would lead to pain and discomfort while peeing or during sexual intercourse. Gonorrhea and chlamydia are sexually transmitted infections that mainly cause discharge from the vagina/penis and therefore, they are grouped together. In order to differentiate the STIs and get proper treatment, a doctor will need to lab test for all STI’s to identify which infection you have.
- If not properly treated, STIs can result in devastating complications.
Some of the most commonly known complications of sexually transmitted infections include infertility, cancer, and even infections that can travel to the brain. Prevention and early treatment are vital to combat these risks.
- If you are sexually active, we can’t stress enough that you need to get screened for sexually transmitted infections every 3 months.
Screening is a process of checking you for sexually transmitted infections through a series of blood tests your doctor orders for you. You can go get screened at any nearby health center, and this process makes it possible for you to have a healthy and enjoyable sex life, free of complications. We also encourage you to ask your partner to get tested before you begin your sexual journey with them.
- The only sure way of protecting oneself against sexually transmitted infections if you are sexually active is to wear condoms during any form of sexual play.
If properly worn, condoms can protect from sexually transmitted infections as well as prevent pregnancy. Other forms of contraceptives can only prevent pregnancy, not STI’s. Wearing condoms to prevent STIs includes vaginal, oral, and anal sex.
- If you have the symptoms commonly associated with sexually transmitted infections, no need to panic! Just go to your nearby health center, and your health care provider will examine you and provide you with the treatment you need.
There is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to STI’s. It can happen to everyone, and there are doctors who are specifically trained to help you with short and long-term treatment and care.
The most important thing is to be open and honest with your doctor and your partner when it comes to these conversations. If you are nervous to ask your partner about STIs or to get tested, that means you are probably not ready to have sex. Make sure to contact a doctor if you have any concerns, want more information, or just to get tested. We hope this has brought you one step closer to a safe and healthy sexual journey!
The changes each of us go through during puberty can be puzzling to figure out, especially in a country like ours where the information you can get for these kinds of topics is limited.
Parents don’t think it’s the norm to discuss these issues with their kids, it’s not out of malice or anything, it’s just the culture we have can be restrictive in such cases.
This has resulted in confused kids who often get their information through internet sites, and while that can be beneficial, the information you can find on the internet is often unfiltered and can be misleading. This is why as a culture we have to evolve enough to make it a norm to discuss such issues and have a platform that allows us to learn from each other’s experiences.
When we come to the topic at hand, puberty is a normal physiological process our bodies go through when the time comes. Girls are known to go through puberty a bit earlier than boys.
This period can be challenging in a lot of ways; our bodies are going through a lot of changes and these changes are due to hormones called estrogen and progesterone for girls, and lots of testosterone for guys.
These hormones are responsible for all of the changes that occur in our bodies but they also affect our moods and mental status. For guys, these changes have been known to be associated with aggressive mood swings. During this period guys can act out and be difficult to handle for their parents. This is mostly fueled by hormonal changes happening in their bodies.
For most teenagers, puberty is the time where personal development takes place and they start questioning the beliefs they were taught by their parents for their whole lives, a rebellious stage if you will. This is a very sensitive time because the sense of self we develop at this time can follow us through our adult years.
The physical changes that occur during this time can also attribute to the mental changes a teenager goes through. A self-esteem issue can arise because of peer pressure. The changes our bodies go through might come later, or be different than the changes our friends are going through. This can result in teasing, which can affect the way we view ourselves and have an effect on our confidence.
The mental issues/changes puberty causes have remained a mystery for most of us, simply because discussion about these topics is limited. In our culture, parents don’t fully understand the benefits of discussing such issues and that can result in confused children, so as a culture, we need to evolve enough to encourage discussion of such topics. Just remember: mood swings, anger issues, and a loss of sense of self are some things every teenager goes through. It’s our job to be understanding and kind to everyone – we never know what challenges people are facing, especially within themselves.
Puberty is a period of a comprehensive set of physical, emotional and mental changes. It can be a challenging time for children to go through, especially if they aren’t well informed. It occurs because of hormonal changes – the main hormones that come into play during this period are progesterone and estrogen as well as testosterone.
Girls usually experience puberty a little earlier than boys, which is what is expected and maybe also maybe the origin of the saying ‘’ girls mature faster than boys’’. For girls, the average age in which they experience puberty is from 9-12 and for boys it’s between the ages of 10-13.
Girls go through many physical changes during puberty:
- The breasts will grow bigger. In many girls, this is the first sign of puberty.
- Hair grows in the genital area (pubic hair), under the arms, and on the legs. In some girls, pubic hair is the first sign of puberty.
- Girls start to get their monthly periods. Monthly periods usually start within 2 years after the breasts or pubic hair start growing. When a girl first starts getting her period, she might not get one every month. It is normal for a period to skip a month, or come twice in a single month. Some girls feel bloated or have mood changes right before they get their period, often called PMS. Girls can have white or clear vaginal discharge seen in their underwear, this is extremely normal!
- Vaginal discharge is the term doctors use to describe the small amount of fluid that comes out of the vagina during this period. Girls can have white or clear vaginal discharge which is part of the physiological process and it’s only when this discharge has odor or changes in color that it becomes a cause for concern.
As for the guys, the main physical changes that occur are:
- The testicles get bigger. This is usually the first change that happens.
- The penis gets longer and wider.
- Hair grows in the genital area (pubic hair), on the face, and under the arms.
- The voice changes and it becomes deeper.
- Boys can ejaculate a small amount of sperm at night while they sleep. This is sometimes called a “wet dream.”
- The breasts can get slightly bigger. This usually goes away over time and sometimes it doesn’t, which is also perfectly normal.
There are also minor physical changes attributed with puberty for both girls and boys, which include sweating with order, eyesight changes (if a child is going to need glasses, then he/she would start needing them during puberty) as well as skin changes like acne on their face, back, and arms.
When we talk about puberty, we mentioned that the average age for puberty is 9-12 for girls and 10-13 years for guys, but everybody’s experience can be different and unique to their own.
Puberty can come earlier and it could also come later than the average ages listed above, and in most cases this can be normal but there are cases when it’s not normal.
In the medical community the official term given for early puberty is when puberty starts earlier than the age 8 for girls and age 9 for boys, and puberty is medically considered late for girls when it occurs later than 12 and for guys when it’s later than age 14.
Doctors will assess the reasons behind these occurrences and can rule out if there are problems or not so it’s recommended to go get checked out when your puberty is early or late.
Aside from the physical changes, puberty can also be associated with mental changes. For both sexes, this time can be attributed to severe mood swings which can result in behavioral changes. If parents aren’t understanding of their kids during this period, it can lead to a divide between the communication of a parent with his/her child.
Many teenagers go through a hard time during puberty because of all of the mental changes that happen during this process. Depression, anxiety, and self esteem issues all begin to arise around puberty. It’s the first time many of us begin to feel doubt about things we were totally confident about just years ago. The internet is a great place for research at times, but when it comes to the digital age, many teenagers find themselves comparing themselves to people online who only display a fraction of their lives. It can lead to unhealthy habits such as eating disorders and mental issues. It’s important to make sure that teenagers feel like they have a safe space to talk about their emotions, and that starts at home.
For more information on changes during puberty, consult a doctor or psychiatrist for more information and resources. Remember – everyone goes through it, make sure you are taking it one day at a time.