Sherifa’s Story: Why we need to talk about sex with young people

“He told me, if you love me, you will not use a condom” confides 15 year old Sherifa.

We met Sherifa while filming Who Cares About Her? in 2010 who told us about falling pregnant when she most certainly did not want to be pregnant.

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Sherifa lives in an urban slum near Uganda’s largest city Kampala. She walks several hours every day to attend her nearest secondary school and counts herself lucky to have friends she can depend on.

Sitting outside her friend’s home, Sherifa is quiet but bubbly even when recounting how an unwanted pregnancy left her scared for her future and, how an unsafe abortion nearly killed her.

Sherifa recalls the desperation of not knowing where to turn. “I used local things [for the abortion]…when I drunk them I felt a lot of pain with bad breathing, a lot of blood. My sister took me to the hospital. The doctor told her I was about to die.”

Luckily, Sherifa was able to reach help in time. She received critical information about contraception and how to prevent future unwanted pregnancies thanks to Uganda’s largest sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) service provider, Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU).

 We know talking to young women and girls about sex can be uncomfortable. But shying away from these issues leaves thousands of girls like Sherifa ill-equipped with nowhere to turn.

The consequences of this information gap are dire. In Uganda, 1 in 6 young women will be pregnant before the age of 20, putting her at risk of unsafe abortion, complications in pregnancy and childbirth, and contracting HIV or an STI.  And the impact is far reaching - young women who become pregnant are more likely to  dropout of school, marry early, and have limited opportunities for the future. Most young women will have 2.6 children before she even considers using a modern form of contraception. 

But there are simple solutions to equip women and girls with the information to avoid these consequences. This is why SafeHands is implementing the Knowledge & Information on Safe Sex (KISS) project, in partnership with RHU and Say It Now, to deliver judgement-free information on safe sex and relationships directly into the hands of young women and men by launching an SMS mobile service which uses artificial intelligence technology to answer questions and refer to their nearest clinic.

Starting in Fort Portal, Southwest Uganda, we will work with young people to identify key information and barriers they face in accessing youth-friendly SRHR services and information by putting the cameras into their hands and ask them to document their experiences.

Young people want information and support to make informed decisions about safe sex – it’s our responsibility to ensure that it is easy to access, accurate, and judgement-free.

Nancy Durell Mckenna