September 26 is World Contraception Day, a global campaign to raise awareness of contraception and the need to reduce the high levels of unplanned pregnancy, and to improve knowledge about reproductive and sexual health. I celebrated World Contraception Day in Berlin, Germany, at an event on September 24 sponsored by the German Federation for World Population (DSW) and Bayer Schering Pharma. The event in Berlin focused on teenage pregnancies worldwide and the need for better access to and information among teens to avoid pregnancy.
Moderated by Rolf Seelmann-Eggebert, Special Correspondent for North German Broadcasting Corporation, the event opened with remarks by Renate Bähr, executive director of DSW, and Klaus Brill, Vice President of Corporate Commercial Relations for Bayer Schering Pharma. Marion Caspers-Merk, a Member of Parliament, asked provocatively in her keynote address what Germany would have provided to Sarah Palin’s daughter. She highlighted Germany’s programs to reach teens and the country’s support for international development programs.
The evening’s highlight was Mercy Mkaluma Maghanga, a courageous young
woman from Kenya who, after her own teen pregnancy, founded a peer
education group to help other young women and men. She told the
audience, made up of parliamentarians, nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs), foundations, other DSW-networks, private donors, media, and
other people interested in issues of development co-operation, about
her life and her organization, Hands of Mercy. She gave an emotional
appeal to focus more attention on unintended pregnancy among teens in
Kenya, in addition to programs on HIV/AIDS.
I presented findings from PAI’s recent publication, Comprehensive HIV
Prevention: Condoms and Contraceptives Count,
making the point that contraceptives and condoms are both critical
technologies in the fight against HIV/AIDS and that both continue to be
underfunded. I noted that sexually active teens are as concerned — if
not more concerned — about preventing pregnancy as about preventing
HIV. Programs should promote condoms as a youth-friendly technology
for both pregnancy prevention and HIV prevention. Establishing use of
condoms and other contraceptives early bodes well for continued use.
In addition to access to services, young people also need comprehensive
sex education, which research shows does work. Mercy gave testimony to
the lack of such information and services among her peers in Mombasa,
Kenya and the resulting unintended pregnancies among teens who felt
pressured to have sex and did not know how to protect themselves.
The discussion focused on the similarities facing teens regardless of
whether they live in Germany or Kenya and the differences in access to
services and information. Calling for more cross-continental
partnerships among groups working directly with teens, audience members
cautioned against painting too rosy a picture of services and
information available in the West. As it turns out, talking about sex
is equally difficult in Germany as it is in Kenya.