(February 2012) Reproductive health (RH) is one of the cornerstones of an individual’s health and well-being, and an important component of a country’s human social development. Universal access to reproductive health services is a target under the Millennium Development Goals, reflecting international consensus that RH issues are linked to development, social justice, human rights, and gender equality. Limited access to RH information among female adolescents can increase their vulnerability to health problems. Therefore, it is important to provide them with accurate and age-appropriate information.
But in the Middle East and North Africa, cultural norms dictate that girls should not be exposed to information about RH until they are married. Providing unmarried girls with RH information, education, counseling, and services has long been a challenge because of cultural, social, and religious sensitivities.
This working paper presents key findings of a recent study conducted by the Alexandria Regional Centre for Women’s Health and Development, in Egypt, highlighting gaps between female adolescents’ needs for appropriate RH information and what they actually have access to, as expressed by the girls. The study, covering the Alexandria Governorate, also reveals that school teachers, doctors, and social workers are unprepared to take on the task of accurately informing young girls about RH and responding to their questions and concerns. Both the girls and the school officials expressed a desire to gain the information and skills to address these gaps.
Sara A. Hanafy participated in a joint PRB-Assiut University training on policy communication held in Hurghada, Egypt, in October 2011, and helped prepare this report. She is a research program officer at the Research and Community Development Unit, Alexandria Regional Centre for Women’s Health and Development. Hanafy is also an MPH candidate in the High Institute of Public Health at Alexandria University, Egypt. This paper is based on some of the findings of an ongoing project conducted by the centre. Hanafy can be reached at email@example.com.