Sexual and reproductive health and rights or SRHR is the concept of human rights applied to sexuality and reproduction. It is a combination of four fields that in some contexts are more or less distinct from each other but less so or not at all in other contexts.
Good sexual and reproductive health is described as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system. It implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life, the capability to reproduce, and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so.
In order to maintain one’s sexual and reproductive health, people need access to accurate information and the safe, effective, affordable and acceptable contraception method of their choice. They must be informed and empowered to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections. And when they decide to have children, women must have access to services that can help them have a fit pregnancy, safe delivery and healthy baby.
Malawi has been seen to make progress in increasing its overall modern contraceptive prevalence rate since 2000 which resulted in a dramatic reduction in the country’s total fertility rate. However teenage pregnancies are still on the rise and little has been done in order to meet the need for family planning among the youth. Two – thirds of the country’s population is under the age of 25 and with Malawi’s rapid population growth, reducing the unmet need for family planning among the youth remains paramount for the government’s reproductive health agenda.
More than one-fifth of the country’s population is between the ages of 10 and 19 and many of these young individuals face the risk or are currently struggling with the results of an unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. In order to minimize the risks and in turn secure healthy future for adolescents, it is important that policy makers, journalists, service providers and advocates gather solid information regarding the sexual and reproductive health needs of Malawian youth.
Malawi has one of the highest adolescent pregnancy rates worldwide with 141 births/1000 girls which is 3 times higher than the global average. Individuals have widely acknowledged the health risks as well as the general social unacceptability of early pregnancy, yet adolescent pregnancy is prevalent within the country. The importance of female school completion and the norm that pregnancy typically marks the end of a girl’s education was also acknowledged. Unprotected sex has been reported as a result of poverty and that initiation rituals encourage girls to start practicing sex at puberty. It has been reported that contraceptives and condoms are frowned upon for adolescents due to concerns about inappropriateness for young girls and misconceptions about possible side effects. The National Reproductive Health Program presents strategies for the implementation of some components of sexual and reproductive health services and these services include; family planning, maternal and neonatal health this includes the management of unsafe abortion, prevention and management of sexually transmitted infections (STI) and HIV and AIDS, prevention and early detection of cervical cancer, infertility, the mitigation of harmful practices and obstetric fistula.
The Malawi Sexual Reproductive Health Rights Alliance comprises of six Malawian based organisations that are committed to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of everyone especially young people in Malawi. The organisations involved include Family Planning association of Malawi (FPAM), Centre for Alternatives for Victimised Women and Children (CAVWOC), Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO), Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Centre for Youth Empowerment and Civic Education (CYECE) and Coalition of Women Living with HIV and Aids (COWLHA). Technological developments, such as the Youth Power Hub which strives to promote knowledge, understanding and action on Sexual Reproductive Health amongst youth in Africa, will help aid in taking action towards having more conversations surrounding sexual health.