This blog is written by a 17-year-old Lebanese girl born in Syria. Her family returned to Lebanon at the onset of the Syrian war and she now resides in Baalbek city, her father’s hometown, located in the Beqaa valley, Lebanon. Currently, Rima studies nursing at a vocational school. She has participated in different programs in local NGOs including vocational training, life skills and computer skills.
Since she began studying nursing last year, Rima has started her own awareness initiative where she shares medical information on a WhatsApp group with girls of her age. She shares information she learns and does her own research on issues related to nutrition, SHRH, mental health and bodily differences between males and females, among other topics.
Rima joined the Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) participatory research groups in Lebanon in 2019. She is a member of our ongoing covid-19 research.
This blog is one of two written by adolescent girls who are part of our participatory research, and will be representing their peers at a virtual event held during the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly titled ‘Adolescent girls’ vision for accountability in Generation Equality‘.
During the event, Rima will address issues related to education on sexual and reproductive health and its intersection with gender-based violence and technology in her community, and share her own experience in advocacy and related recommendations to the Generational Equality Action Coalition leaders.
Rima’s story as told to Sally Youssef
About two years ago, when I began studying nursing at a vocational school, I began to learn a lot about health, and sexual and reproductive health in particular. That was when I started realising the lack of information among girls and the spread of misinformation. Discussing issues related to sexual and reproductive health is considered taboo in our society: parents do not talk to their children about these topics, especially with girls during puberty. Girls resort to different sources to obtain information about their sexual and reproductive health; either from friends or the internet. They often receive incorrect information and do not know how to access reliable sources. In addition, mothers or women in my community share ‘common’ information with the girls that is actually incorrect due to their lack of awareness and education about sexual and reproductive health, posing a threat to the health of adolescent girls.
The problem with accessing reliable information is related to the absence of awareness campaigns on sexual and reproductive health in our society that target parents and the wider community, and the importance of communicating these issues to children. Moreover, education on sexual and reproductive health is absent in schoolsr, which makes girls more vulnerable to risks. Especially given the spread of harassment and early marriage among adolescent girls, who often do not have information about how to maintain their health and or the health services available. In addition, the high cost of health services and medicine prevents many girls from obtaining treatment, especially after the spread of the covid-19 virus which exacerbated the economic crisis and increased poverty. The lack of privacy and poor treatment by service providers also prevents girls from accessing these services because they fear the negative attitude of the service providers and the wider community’s negative perception of them if gossip spreads.
Social media is an important tool for reaching girls and spreading correct information on sexual and reproductive health. But the specialists who share this information on social media, especially girls who interact with such conversations or spread awareness about these topics, face negative attitudes from their community because it is considered shameful for them to talk about these issues. Public discussions on social media also expose them to bullying, harassment and threats, especially from males. In light of this reality and because I want girls of my age to have access to correct information, and reliable and safe sources about their sexual and reproductive health, I started sharing everything I learny in school in a closed WhatsApp group for girls. I started doing research using reliable sources and sharing it with them to help spread awareness without exposing them or myself to any risks. In this group, girls receive credible information and sources and have a safe space to discuss issues related to their health without any fear or prohibitions.
Through my advocacy initiative, I can only reach a limited number of girls. Most girls in my community remain unable to obtain correct information and reliable sources. Hence, it is critical to work towards creating more safe spaces for girls that allow them to access information and discuss issues related to their sexual and reproductive health. Closed social media groups can be a great tool in this regard. It is also important to expand education on these topics among parents, and highlight the necessity of dialogue with their children through community-based awareness campaigns. The most important action should be focused on integrating education on sexual and reproductive health into school curricula, to ensure that all adolescents are reached – especially younger adolescent girls.