The story of Nqobile

May 22, 2014

"I tried to avoid boys but it just happened. He is the one who ‘broke’ me and took my virginity. I know that I am not the only one for him. I want to use condoms but he said that he paid for my virginity, so we don’t use them. I find it very difficult to talk with him about condoms. And too embarrassing to get them in a clinic. In the future I think it will depend on the guy whether we use condoms."

Nqobile was nineteen years old when I met her. Her story is not a unique one. Young people all over the world find it difficult to discuss condom use with their partner, friends, parents, to access health services. They need support in negotiating skills, have an understanding about their rights. How can you otherwise make healthy choices in life if nobody is giving you the right information? The focus on quality for Nqobile and others needs our full attention! 

“I want someone whom I can trust”

Nqobile lived with her parents, three brothers and four sisters in a township near Durban in South Africa. Her boyfriend sometimes called her; she liked him, but didn't want to marry him. She had a sexual relationship with him.

"Other people know that he had taken my virginity, because he had asked my parents. When we met, he really liked me and wanted to sleep with me. I told him that he had to talk to my parents and so our parents discussed the lobola. His parents paid the price of a cow (1500 rand). He didn't have to marry me. This was only because I was a virgin. Afterwards my parents told me that I had to test myself; we both did and were both negative. We don't use condoms. I want to but he does not. I am scared of everything, scared to get pregnant so I don't want to see him too often. I don't know what he is doing because he lives in Durban. Also I can't talk to my parents. We never do so. I want someone whom I can trust, but Ithink this is difficult because men often cheat. "

Quality programmes: move away from jumping into solutions

How can we help girls like Nqobile? Through research studies over the years we have learned a lot about the effectiveness of sexual and reproductive health and rights education and HIV prevention programmes for youth. Using evidence can guide organisations to work systematically and effectively. We should move away from jumping into solutions, but in the first place get a thorough understanding of what the problem really is. 

Be comprehensive and inclusive

Having an effective programme in place that really supports young people like Nqobile, needs to:

  • be comprehensive and use a mix of methods. Young persons do not only need to know where to find a clinic or how to use a condom. They need to see the need for it, have the confidence, discuss it with their partner, and overcome fear for being stigmatised by friends or health care workers.
  • target also the important people in their environment. Young people do not life in a vacuum but are influenced and need to be supported by their friends, parents, teachers, health care workers, community members, traditional leaders and let's not forget the policy makers.

Yet this sounds easier than the reality often is. In some countries laws and policies exclude young people from sexual health care and HIV-related services. The list of barriers and difficulties young people, and especially young women, face is very long. 

Political commitment ensures comprehensive sexuality education

Having a supportive political climate within the countries really helps organisations, schools and health clinics to provide sexuality education and health services. In December 2013, ministers of health and education from 21 African countries committed themselves to ensure that in their national curriculum comprehensive sexuality education is mandatory. This commitment is a huge step. It is certainly not the last step. In July, a peer review meeting will take place to analyse current efforts, and all stakeholders (UNESCO, UNICEF, UNFPA, and local organisations) will meet at the end of this year to review the process. 

By: Miriam Groenhof - Senior Advisor Prevention for Youth at STOP AIDS NOW!

STOP AIDS NOW!'s contribution to the quality of programmes is that, together with Rutgers WPF, we support civil society organisations. We have translated what is known to be effective into practical tools and guidelines. Local trainers in 12 countries are available to support organisations working with youth. Meet one of our trainers and hear about the experiences of those who received support

This article has been published in the STOP AIDS NOW! e-news May 2014