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Youth in Grenada Need Comprehensive Sexuality Education
While waiting at a bus stop several years ago, I overheard a conversation between two teenage girls that left me dismayed and outraged. They jokingly shared stories about the weekend’s escapades and commiserated over having the same problem with their boyfriends – “forgetting” to use a condom during sex.
I was shocked that these young women would speak so casually about sexual health decisions that would affect the rest of their lives. I couldn’t understand how they could be so cavalier and naïve. Then I realized that these girls were a product of their environment, one in which young people aren’t given adequate access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. This chance encounter reinvigorated my resolve to empower all young people to make healthier decisions.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, more than a quarter of the population is between 15 and 29 years old. Yet, young people continue to face formidable barriers to accessing the sexual and reproductive health information and services they need. These barriers contribute significantly to the high rates of adolescent pregnancy, unsafe abortion, and sexually transmitted infections in the region.
In Grenada, the idea that we should provide young people with comprehensive sex education is not only socially taboo, but also politically controversial. The topic has been vitually nonexistant in public conversations about sexual and reproductive health and rights, and pressure from religious authorities has played too strong a role in shaping government programs and policy. Whether people talk openly about young people’s sexuality or not, the facts show that they are engaging in sexual activity. Forty percent of young women in Grenada give birth before the age of 20, and 14% of girls report having been forced to have sex. Among young people who engage in sexual activity, two-thirds say they don’t use condoms all the time.
All young people have a right to information about their bodies and sexual rights, and it is the time we change our culture of silence by speaking about sex and sexuality openly. We can no longer simply bear witness, stigmatize and blame young people, and deny our responsibility to act. The health of our youth – and our nations – depends on it!
Chenelle Marshall is a 21-year-old social activist and health enthusiast who found her calling after joining the Youth Advocacy Movement (YAM) at Grenada Planned Parenthood Association in 2011. Through YAM, Chenelle was able to channel her interest in sexual and reproductive health and rights to serving underprivileged youth and impoverished women across the island of Grenada. A recent college graduate, she hopes to pursue a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in International Development.