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Interview with a Young Leader at Women Deliver

Understanding the cultural stigma's preventing sexual health

Photo of Karan Sancheti
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Isatou Bittaye is a human rights advocate and feminist with almost a decade of experience working in women’s and girls’ rights and young people’s empowerment. She serves as the Communications Manager of The Girls’ Agenda, a youth led organization working for the empowerment of young women and girls and advocating to end FGM, child marriage, promoting sexual and reproductive health rights, life skills and leadership, and girl’s access to education. Previously, she served as the Senior Program Officer at the National Council for civic Education where she led the programs team and educated Gambian citizens on their constitutional rights and civic duties and responsibility to hold the government accountable. She holds a BSc. in Political Science from the University of The Gambia and Master’s in International Studies from National Chengchi University in Taiwan.

How long have you been a Young Leader?  - At the age of 15 years, Isatou joined became a Youth Advocate to promote Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness with an NGO.
What was the source of Sex Education? - The primary source of knowledge was through peers. It was this network that was most approachable but highly inaccurate none the less. Schools did not have it in their curriculum and it was not openly discussed at home. The topic was a taboo and would be kept at bay.
What are the issues faced by young adults when it comes to sexual health? - Usually when there is an infection, there is lack of knowledge about symptoms. On the other hand, hospitals are not very approachable as the nurses would raise questions which corners the child to feel guilty and hence abstain themselves from wellness centers.
Do you think there are gender based differences when it comes to access to information? - Because of a patriarchal society, there are many instances for gender based differentiation. Women are not allowed to have an opinion and because of tradition they feel helpless and have to give in. They are mistreated and misled. They are gotten married at an early age, child marriage in most cases, and forced to bear children which leads to health complications and higher child birth mortality rates. Women are also subject to Female Genitalia Mutilation (FGM) without any choice. It is done to them even before they can have an opinion about the same. The last census held in Gambia recorded a 76% rate of FGM in women between the ages 15 to 43.They have now criminalized FGM and also Child Marriage (under the age of 18).
How do young adults currently tend to hygiene? - More than 50% of the country is in the rural zone and hygiene is a big problem throughout. There is limited access to and knowledge about sanitary pads. It is also expensive, thus forcing many to use rags and old cloth material during their menstruation cycle. Cleanliness is mostly a problem leading to vaginal infections, becoming contagious and spreading. 

Do you see a solution to prevent these problems? - The only way to solve these problems are if the community comes together and interacts and openly discusses these problems. Its not just within the families that there should be an open discussion but families need to interact and break cultural stigma's for better health. To get women involved into most of the social and political development is one way to create new perspectives for a better society. If social enterprises sprout, they can give economical rise and socially uplift to the people. Major barriers are tradition, culture and economy.

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Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thanks Karan for sharing this interview. I found Isatou's suggestions inspiring: how might we engage all actors in society and tap into the power of the community to create holistic solutions that can lead to change in culture? How might we also develop sustainable solutions that create financial opportunities? Looking forward to seeing how this will inspire you and your team, and other OpenIDEO community members. Thanks!