Youth in Papua New Guinea Speak Out About Sexual and Reproductive Health – by Julia Sidney Mayersohn, Marie Stopes Papua New Guinea
Editors Note: In February 2014, six young people, selected from among trained peer educators at three high schools in the Central Province of Papua New Guinea, participated in a digital storytelling workshop organized by Marie Stopes Papua New Guinea and led by our Silence Speaks Program.
World Contraception Day (September 26th) marked the premiere in Port Moresby of a collection of moving digital stories created by youth peer educators from around Papua New Guinea. The videos, which offer rare and thoughtful insights into deeply real issues that affect adolescents all over the world – peer pressure, first boyfriends, and fear of unwanted pregnancy – were shown to a theatre full of students and dignitaries, as well as members of the press and media, as part of a film festival organized by the United Nations.
"I was not ashamed to tell my story to the world," said Pascal, a student from Kwikila National High School whose film talks about his experience contracting a sexually transmitted infection and seeking treatment. "It was good to tell my own story rather than someone else’s. I’m proud to show my experience and hope it can help other people."
Maraga, from Iarowari High School, focused his story on disappointment with his first romantic relationship. "Most of our young people are getting married very early," said Maraga. "Girls are getting pregnant and boys are becoming fathers before they are ready. We all have our own rights as Papua New Guineans, and we need to be careful with our decisions."
Vincentsia, from Sogeri National High School, talks in her story about her fear of early pregnancy and pressure from her boyfriend to have sex before she was ready. "Sometimes when we are in love, we just don’t think twice and do what we want – but I decided on what I really wanted. My friends and I have stayed strong."
Noah, also from Sogeri National High School, told a story about how his attitude towards abortion has changed. His mother had told him that a fetus his friends found in a river was the child of a prostitute, and smacked him for asking a question about the fetus. As he got older, he realized that many young women are forced to undergo dangerous abortions because they are excluded from the health system, which shames them for seeking contraception and doesn’t address their needs. "We neglect young girls in our society," he says. "We call them prostitutes, but these are often the same girls in our homes. It’s the shame and taboo around talking about sex that puts these girls in their situation and ignores the financial issues they face."
After the films were shown, Marie Stopes Papua New Guinea’s (MSPNG) Clinical Services Director Dr. Edith Kariko joined a panel along with two peer educators from the University of Papua New Guinea, who were trained by MSPNG in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund.
"Adolescents and young people need to access sexual and reproductive health information and services, including family planning services. Family planning services should not be seen as only for married couples; young people should be able to freely access these services as well."
MSPNG will continue to use these stories as education and advocacy tools, with plans underway to share them in Parliament and through local media. The students themselves will show the films within their schools, as part of their peer education efforts.