Forced out of school
As a young woman growing up in Sweden, I never once questioned my autonomy to choose my own future
As a young woman growing up in Sweden, I took many things for granted. I never once questioned my unequivocal right to be treated fairly, my access to free and equal education and, not least, the autonomy to choose my own future. At the age of 15, my perspective was shaken to the core when I became pregnant. I was ashamed, embarrassed, and terrified of what this meant for my life and my future. So I made a decision. To this day, this is still most important decision I have ever made.
Around the world, there are many other girls who like me had an early and unintended pregnancy, but with one significant difference. I had a choice, where they did not.
I could safely and without judgment terminate the pregnancy and immediately insert a contraceptive implant to protect me from further pregnancies. I could complete my education, go to university and find a job working to help other women have the same choice I had.
For millions of women, contraceptives and safe abortion are either not available or of such poor quality that women and girls have little choice but to have a child they don’t want or cannot support. For adolescent girls, an unintended pregnancy can have a detrimental effect on the rest of her life. It can impact her health, her access to education, her economic opportunities and, in general, the autonomy to make decisions about her own life.
Through my work with Marie Stopes International, I have encountered the stories of many young women who had to leave education and put their lives and futures on hold due to an unintended pregnancy. Aminata in Sierra Leone is one of them.
Aminata was like any other 15-year-old. With dreams of becoming a nurse, she spent her days going to school and hanging out with friends. But all that changed when she became pregnant and was forced to leave school.
“The major work I do now is to take care of my child, and fetch water to the house… My friends are in school while I am at home nursing a baby. I can no longer play with them because my child is always crying for me to carry her.”
Despite having to leave education at such a young age, Aminata is still hopeful for the future.
“Having a child at my age was a big mistake. But with contraception, I am empowered to return to school and proceed to college to achieve my dreams.”
Aminata’s fate is far from uncommon. Every year an estimated 21 million girls aged 15 to 19 years become pregnant in developing regions. In Aminata’s own close friendship group, two other girls also fell pregnant aged 15, and in 2013 Sierra Leone recorded the 7th highest teenage pregnancy rate in the world, with more than a third of girls having their first baby before the age of 18.
In many parts of the world, lack of access to contraceptive services, stigma and social and cultural norms block access for young women and girls to meet their contraceptive need, leaving them at risk of unintended pregnancies that force them out of education. Globally, teenage pregnancy is cited as one of the primary barriers to girls’ education and in many places, girls are forced to drop out when they become pregnant with laws and social stigma preventing them from ever returning.
But the situation is not hopeless. If we work together to reach girls everywhere, by increasing awareness and access to contraception and safe abortion services, free from judgment and stigma, we can help them retake control of their futures.
I made a decision 14 years ago. I know that I would not be where I am today without access to contraception and safe abortion.
I could make a choice, decide what was best for my life and for my future. It’s time that we work hard and work together to enable young women and girls, wherever she is, to have the same opportunity to exercise her right to make #HerChoice to remain in control of her body, her life and her future.