"You are now a woman. If you greet a boy when having menstruation, you get pregnant. This is what my grandmother told me when I had my first period and this sentence traumatised me," says Kadidiatou S., President of a youth led association in Mali.
Kadidiatou comes from an ethnic group where the subject is taboo. She could not talk to her mother about this new element in her body that disturbed her. "I talked to a cousin who told me what to do and I did just that. My mother got to know about it months later. She asked me how I have been doing and I replied that my cousin explained it to me. She didn't say anything else; I could see in her fleeting look, that she was unable to hold such a conversation with me."
Kadidiatou is now a grown up. The shock she went through during her first period prompted her to become a promoter of sexual and reproductive health rights. She began her struggle in secondary school, high school and training centres, when she was still an adolescent. She used to lead conferences and debates with her classmates about contraception, early pregnancies, unwanted pregnancies, sexuality, harmful practices, etc. "I decided to break the taboo. I started with my mates because I used to see them suffer during their period, either because of the pain or because of the humiliation they were experiencing with a stained clothe. Many of them did not use to come to school during period," Kadidiatou explains.
After having served on the National Youth Council, Kadidiatou created her association entitled "Youth and Women's Action for Sustainable Development. With her Association, she does a lot of awareness raising through conferences and debates in various communities, and builds the capacity of peer educators in sexual and reproductive health, in collaboration with partners such as UN Women and Plan International. "The collaboration with Plan International Mali has been a great opening for us. Plan International Mali gives decision-making and leadership power to young people, which our other partners do not do. The most striking example is the organization of IDG 2019. With Plan International Mali, we conducted the process, we did it the way we wanted; young people were at the forefront."
And to crown it all, Plan International Mali sponsored my participation to ICPD+25 as a youth Advocate.
"Nairobi has given me a new perspective on the issue of sexual and reproductive health. Participating in ICPD 25 was a great opportunity for me, as it allowed me to learn about the progress and perspectives of sexual and reproductive health rights of the largest international organizations, which challenges us to see how we, as a youth association, can contribute to this struggle. It was an experience sharing opportunity, with good examples and lessons learned and great decisions, like the adoption of sex education in the school curriculum, which is a real problem in Mali.
Kadidiatou is planning an ICPD+25 feedback workshop with her team and partner organizations, including a brainstorming workshop to see how Mali can move forward on SRHR and how young people can contribute to the discussion. "We are suffering from this ignorance and if we don't pay attention, our children will also suffer", Kadidiatou concludes.