When Kenyan teenager Rosemary Olale found out she was pregnant, her guardians threw her out of their home in shame, despite the fact no one taught her about safe sex. She didn’t dare tell them she was also HIV positive. Olale, now 37, started a group in 2005 to provide other HIV positive women and young mothers with support in dealing with stigma, poverty and reproductive health issues.
“Where I come from, talking about the sex education with your girl is really difficult,” Olale told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. However, a growing number of businesses, charities, and individuals are seeking to fill the gap in information.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Nailab, a Kenyan firm that supports technology startups, are behind the latest initiative, which targets entrepreneurs for their ideas on providing sex education through technology and social media. Candidates in the I.AM campaign launched this month, have until August to submit their ideas before four winners are chosen to receive training, mentorship and funding to develop their ideas further.
“All girls, all boys must have comprehensive sexuality education,” said Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA executive director. “That’s really when they can make the choice in their lives.” Sex education and family planning are critical in delaying motherhood, reducing HIV rates and deaths from unsafe abortions, UNFPA says.
Kenya is a hotbed of technological innovation in Africa, with technology giants such as Google, IBM and Microsoft setting up headquarters in Nairobi. For an issue as taboo as sex, technology allows people to have anonymous and informative conversations without the fear of stigma or discrimination.
“(If) somebody builds software that allows people to anonymously chat about their sexual challenges, and we see tens of thousands of young people using it – that will be the most exciting part of this,” said Sam Gichuru, chief executive of Nailab.
Technology can also reach many more people than face-to-face groups like Olale’s. Some 80% of Kenyans own a mobile phone, government data shows.
“A lot of these children are now getting access to mobile phones and technology,” said Siddharth Chatterjee, UNFPA’s representative in Kenya, “Imagine the knowledge they can generate through that technological edge.”