Despite the precarious security challenges in the North West Region, Baya Social Enterprise is holding on to its commitment to break the social barriers of society that limits girls and women empowerment.
For decades, society has told girls to have ambitions, be successful but not to an extent that will threaten a man. See each other as competitors, not for jobs but for men’s attention. The society has taught girls they can’t be sexual beings in the ways boys are. Sex and relationships should not be discussed at home but in schools and when appropriate.
These traditional norms, accompanied by a series of myths and stigmas often derail girls into sex. In Cameroon, boys say “when a girl stays as a virgin for too long, her virginal mucus turns into cubes of sugar.” Others say “a girl who menstruates or matures at an early age is damaged goods as it proofs she is already having sex.”
These myths have shaped the lives of girls and women which have caused many to make uninformed choices.
“Most girls get into wrong relationships because they do not know their values, with no sex education from their parents. Such ignorance has landed them into unhealthy sexual relationships that result in unwanted pregnancies. Children born out-of-wedlock are mock at by either their siblings or members of the community. Many of these girls are heartbroken today because the men who promised heaven and earth abandon them when they get the news ’I am pregnant’. Says Ndang Catherine – Director of women empowerment and the family center, Mbengwi.
She was speaking during a Nyanga health dialogue session on sex education with Baya girl leaders on Thursday 18th April 2019, at the Baptist Center. Ndang Catherine further explained that young girls should know they are not a commodity that a man should test before buying.
“Women should know what they want in life so they can know the man they can have relationships. Girls should be themselves in relationships and not fake their characters. They shouldn’t be in a relationship base on a man’s character. Character is like pregnancy and will only reveal itself later in a relationship.” Added Ndang Catherine
Launched in June 2018, Nyanga Health for Every Woman also works to reduce HIV/AIDS prevalence among adolescent girls in Bamenda. The project helps HIV/AIDS patients to interact with the society so they can live a normal life – over 90% of HIV/AIDS persons working with Nyanga health now speak out and share their experiences. Over 30 peer educators have been trained to coach their peers on sexual activities and carry out HIV/AIDS-free screening.
To many, only by health specialists or married people should talk about sex and its related issues – a myth that has left most adolescents to the mercy of peer pressure.
Anyam Lilian is 24 years old and a peer educator. She teaches her peers how to protect themselves from HIV and other infectious diseases. Lilian also encourages her peers to talk about sex with their parents and siblings.
She shares her experience with us.
“To some parents, it is a taboo to talk about sex at home. Talking about sex with my mother was not an issue as she made me understand that sex is for married people. Here is how the conversation started and it’s really funny. One day I was watching a movie with my mother at home, a sex scene popped up. I thought she will immediately change the channel, but she didn’t. I was surprised but kept watching the movie. She looked at me maybe hoping I will close my eyes but I kept staring. Then she asked me, Lilian, what is that? I told her its sex. She looked so surprised and asked how did I know. I responded while smiling, ‘mummy they are both naked and on each other.’ That was the beginning of the sex sermon. She realized I had very little knowledge about sex and I am thankful for that moment because I learned so much from her.” Explained Lilian
Anyam Lilian further called on her peers to know the right time to get involved in sexual activities so as not to destroy their future. They should learn how to practice self-control and educate others to do the same.
Girl leaders at the dialogue session confirmed in uniformity that parents should create a safe space to discuss sexual/relationship issues with their kids so they don’t get the wrong information from the wrong person.
Baya empowers women through ICT, health talk and economic empowerment training sessions. Over 20 women including those internally displaced have received training on how to produce coconut oil, African beads, and detergent. The women were given capitals in kind to help them start up their own businesses.
Nyanga Health is implemented by BAYA with the support of the UK-based MTV [M2] Staying Alive Foundation < http://www.mtvstayingalive.org/ >
Maikem Emmanuela Manzie