Young Champions of Maternal Health
Peris Wakesho (Kenya)
with Ashoka Fellow Dorothy Aken'ova (Nigeria)
Peris Wakesho's Blog
Currently, there is a large disconnect between pregnant adolescents and available medical services in East Africa. Messaging to adolescent mothers is largely ineffective and emphasizes that the young women are 'too young' to be mothers or to talk about sex, despite the fact that they are already pregnant. Teens themselves internalize this taboo and often don't seek out services for fear of being scolded or shunned. When they do seek treatment, many are regarded as children even by medical professionals (who are generally more educated and not as in tune with the social pressures facing all young women). In this context, talking about early motherhood is very difficult for adolescents. Wakesho is addressing this challenge by starting "Swahiba Clubs" that provide privacy and a safe space for girls to address their sexuality, relationships, health needs, and motherhood with other adolescent mothers. She is beginning to work with men and traditional community leaders to help these groups understand these issues and work together to address them.
Dorothy Aken'ova is improving reproductive health indices in Nigeria by challenging the culture of silence and intolerance around sexuality and sexual diversity. Her organization implements sexual education courses that incorporate sexual rights and the right to sexual pleasure in the syllabus, and changes this discourse on reproductive health at the community and national levels. Dorothy recognizes that women of all ages, especially those in the rural Niger state, are grossly underserved by health care facilities and lack access to information around sexuality, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS transmission, and pregnancy. By advocating for and teaching about an individual's sexual rights, Dorothy is helping women and marginalized groups protect their sexuality from exploitation and abuse.
Peris Wakesho will work with INCREASE's Young People's Project to decrease STI transmission and pregnancy rates among adolescents in rural Niger State, Nigeria. Peris will participate in pregnancy-related outreach programs to schools and communities and will provide antenatal and postnatal consultations to individuals in INCREASE target communities. She and the INCREASE team will provide sexual health education and encourage discussion through drama performances and courses geared towards youth and women. She will also help develop curricula and provide evaluation support for these courses.