Mauritania is one of the poorest countries in the world. The lack of rainfall and the scarcity of vegetation affect the whole country. Over 11% of the country’s population faces food insecurity, including children facing acute malnutrition.
But in M’Berra refugee camp, refugees from Mali face additional challenges – challenges related to their sexual and reproductive health rights. Lack of access to contraception, teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases are just some of the daily challenges that women and girls in the camp face.
With EU humanitarian funding, UNICEF supports health education professionals working with young people in M’Berra camp, educating them about their sexual and reproductive health rights. UNICEF also advocates for the integration of sexual and reproductive health into school curricula and supports initiatives in favor of gender equality.
In M’Berra refugee camp, breaking sexual taboos helps improve the health of young girls and boys.
They face the lack of contraception, teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. The camp is home to approximately 68,300 people, including 37,055 women and girls.
Working in the camp, Hamidou and Mama, 2 young health and education professionals, are committed to educating adolescents about the risks of unsafe and unsafe sex.
Mom is a midwife at health post 3 in M’Berra refugee camp. On a daily basis, she welcomes, listens to and advises patients confronted with early and difficult pregnancies and / or exposed to sexually transmitted diseases.
Hamidou teaches natural sciences and reproductive health in high school in M’Berra refugee camp. Two paths, two jobs for a single objective: better protect the sexual and reproductive health of young girls and boys.
“Sexuality is still a very taboo subject in our societies,” explains Mama. “People are not very aware of this and men refuse to get involved in what they generally see as women’s issues. This is the case with contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases. We regularly see infected couples, but out of pride, the men refuse to undergo treatment or wear condoms.
Access to safe contraceptive methods
In M’Berra camp, women face several barriers in using contraception. In addition to limited access to contraceptive methods, they face prejudices from their spouse, the community and, in some cases, the health workers themselves.
In addition, women who wish to avoid becoming pregnant may not always do so due to a lack of knowledge on the issue: either they do not know how to get information about contraceptive methods, or they do not know how. use the different methods available.
“The family planning service opened in 2019 at the health post, to help women who do not want to get pregnant,” says Mama. “At the beginning, attendance was very low, but now mentalities are starting to change. This is largely due to awareness. When we receive women in prenatal consultation, we take the opportunity to make them aware of the risks of early or close pregnancies and of existing contraceptive methods, ”she explains.
“Sometimes these women are victims of teenage pregnancies; they are barely 13 or 14 years old! We explain to them that getting pregnant at this age is dangerous for them and their baby. Contraception is completely free. The most important thing for us is to give women the choice to decide, ”explains Mama.
Early pregnancy has serious health consequences for adolescent mothers and their babies. According to the World Health Organization, complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15 to 19 around the world.
Early motherhood can increase the risks for adolescent girls who are not physically ready for pregnancy and childbirth and are therefore more prone to complications, as well as for newborns. Infants born to mothers under the age of 20 are at greater risk of low birth weight, premature birth and serious neonatal illness.
“We also want to prevent the risk of unsafe abortions,” says Mama. “When women cannot have an abortion legally, they resort to traditional methods (for example, herbs) or try to get rid of the child at birth. “
Clandestine abortions take place under unsafe medical conditions, increasing the risk of death for women as well as the risk of permanent damage to their reproductive organs.
Raise awareness at school
Unintended pregnancies also have a terrible impact on girls’ education. Many girls, once pregnant, are forced to drop out of school or are expelled from their homes.
The enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health rights includes, among other things, the ability and opportunity to have responsible and safe sex. This prevents maternal and newborn mortality and ensures freedom of choice for girls and boys to have children or not. These messages are included in the course Hamidou teaches at the high school in M’Berra camp.
“My students are between 14 and 16 years old,” says Hamidou. “At this age, they know next to nothing. Sexual organs are susceptible to infection, so prevention and hygiene are essential for adolescent health. Many do not know the risks and complications of early pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, etc. “
However, concrete solutions exist, such as providing all young girls and boys with a comprehensive sex education program appropriate to their age. This goes hand in hand with investing more in girls’ education in general, (i) providing menstrual hygiene facilities in schools, (ii) combating child marriage and sexual violence, and (iii) building gender-sensitive societies by empowering girls and students.
“I am aware that I have a great responsibility because it is a taboo subject that they do not talk about with their families. Here, we talk about everything, without too many double talk: sexuality, pregnancy, menstruation, contraception, etc. But the first thing I teach them is that they must know how to take care of themselves: boys and girls, we are all concerned! “