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  • Teresa, a youth peer mentor, leads a class on family planning options at the Namuno Health Centre in Mozambique. (Photo taken prior to COVID-19.)
    AKFC / Rich Townsend
Aga Khan Foundation
Enabling teenage girls to make decisions about health and life: Snapshots from Mozambique

The teen years are a challenging and tumultuous time, no matter where in the world an adolescent is growing up.

Substance abuse and mental health issues come to mind as immediate threats to an adolescent’s health and well-being. But for an adolescent girl living in the developing world, there is an even greater risk to her life: complications in pregnancy and childbirth.

These risks continue throughout a woman’s life. Every day, about 800 women worldwide die due to preventable causes in pregnancy and childbirth.

And even when a girl or woman’s life is not at risk due to these or other factors, she is often unable to reach her full potential due to gender inequalities and poor access to health care – held back from making her own decisions about her body and future, like whether she will marry or have children, and if so, when.

When girls are empowered to make informed decisions about their own health and lives, they typically stay in school longer and become active participants in their community. As they age, this has a positive impact on their income, family stability and well-being, and mental health and happiness.

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Alexandrina and her son Paulo wait for services outside consulting rooms at Montepuez Health Centre. (Photo taken prior to COVID-19.)
Copyright: 
AKDN

Since 2018, programming supported by the Aga Khan Foundation and the Government of Canada has aimed to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of some of the most vulnerable women and adolescent girls in the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique, one of the poorest regions in the world.

The programme addresses some of the main barriers facing women and girls by:

  • Upgrading and improving the quality of sexual and reproductive services in local health facilities, including improvements to buildings and equipment;
  • Providing training and other support for health workers on sexual and reproductive health issues, particularly those affecting women and adolescent girls; and
  • Engaging communities in addressing social stigma and gender barriers, including addressing sexual and gender-based violence.

But what does this look like in practice? Here are a few snapshots from the field:

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Celma and her daughter Suneza play together while waiting for services at the Montepuez Health Centre. (Photo taken prior to COVID-19.)
Copyright: 
AKFC / Rich Townsend

Being able to access health care that is tailored to their needs is transformational for both adolescents and their children. It can help ensure they are healthier throughout their lifetimes, through improved knowledge, early detection of health issues and preventative measures at home.

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Estefánia is a nurse at the Montepuez health centre in Mozambique, where she counsels dozens of adolescents every day.
Copyright: 
AKFC / Rich Townsend

Dedicated services for youth reduce the stigma associated with sexual and reproductive health and help young women and men feel empowered, comfortable and supported when they access health services and make decisions about their futures.

Improving health care access and services sometimes means investing in infrastructure. Expansions to the Namuno Health Centre mean more space for healthcare providers to consult, treat and care for patients of all ages.

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By reducing gender barriers and social stigma, they are helping ensure every young person can have healthy relationships, make informed decisions about their health and well-being, and get care when they need it. (Photo taken prior to COVID-19.)
Copyright: 
AKFC / Rich Townsend

Youth leaders in Mozambique like Teresa and Edi help ensure that young women and men can access high-quality information and sexual and reproductive health services, tailored to their unique needs and experiences. When faced with fewer gender barriers and social stigma, they can have healthy relationships, make informed decisions about their health and well-being, and get care when they need it.

This programme reaches nearly 450,000 people in six districts of the Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique. 

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A photo of Montepuez Health Centre taken prior to COVID-19.
Copyright: 
AKFC / Rich Townsend

This text was adapted from an article published on the AKF Canada website