Mia, 24, grew up taught to believe sex is a dirty thing and sinful topic nobody should talk about. Luckily, her curiosity, education in Population and Development and contact with young pregnant women unable to abort, set her life goal and interest – with the help of UN and partnership with organisations working in Sexual and Reproductive Health domain, she managed to change the law in her country and give freedom of choice to women around the region. Most of all – she opened the doors of hope and possibilities for better life, something young ladies in Madagascar could only dream about four years ago.
The reality in Madagascar is that many girls are getting pregnant not knowing much about contraception. This results in them being unable to continue studies and work, while some even practice unsafe abortion and die.
Since 2016, gender activist and ambassador involved in sexual and reproductive health, Mia Randriantseheno, has been changing the attitude of the government of Madagascar and helping young women by educating them on contraception and sexual topics.
Her devotion led to law that, today, enables all people under 18 to use contraception freely, make their own decisions.
Finding Her Voice In Madagascar
Mia, please share some interesting updates with us, what are you working on at the moment?
At the moment, we have an advocacy project about access to information toward Sexual and Reproductive Health.
We are trying to broaden the activities at a national level so that every young people could have access to information and make their own choices.
You once said you were not so keen on studying and spending time at University, until you realized the importance of education and its power.
Today, you have Master degree in Population and Development and you act as an Ambassador involved in SRHR (Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights). What triggered you to devote your time and efforts to this?
At first, I was not convinced on using contraception because I was educated with religion and cannot have sex until marriage; contraception is perceived as a sin and I also listened to rumors concerning family planning and unmarried girls who are using it.
Then, I had an internship at UNFPA country office in Madagascar; I started to get some information that I didn’t know, I got convinced that everyone should be able to make a choice on their behavior and life in general.
The reality in Madagascar is that many girls are getting pregnant so they can’t continue studies, some women are practicing unsafe abortion and even die because it was not well-treated.
I decided to be more engaged in promoting Sexual and Reproductive Health for adolescents and youth so that young Malagasy people can stay in school, pursue their dreams, and also ensure the future lead of the country.
I don’t want people live as I did in the past, but be able to make their own choices for their well-being and self-power.
Lack of Education
What do you see as the key reasons of a lack of sexual education in Madagascar?
In Madagascar, parents rarely talk about sex with their children and sexual education was not part of the school programme.
Plus, Malagasy people are conservative. For some, it is even prohibited to talk about sex because it’s the couple’s affair.
In addition, as I said before, religion is also important and having sex is just for married people, we do not get to talk about it if we are not married yet.
As you volunteered in Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar, you used to visit your fellow citizens in their homes and talk to them about family planning and safe sex. How did those people react and what did they wanted to know the most?
At first, people are laughing because they are uncomfortable but when we know how to approach the subject.
We really need to be well-prepared before each intervention and make sure we anticipate the questions because if our answers are not convincing, they will not take into account anything we’re saying.
In my opinion, we should make people feel like it’s not only an information-giving but also a debate where each other got new information.
On The Campaign Trail
In 2016, you led network of young people on a six-month campaign in partnership with UNFPA (United Nations Family Planning Association). How much do you feel the awareness of sexual protection has changed since then?
Since 2016, talking about sexual protection has become much easier because we know that what we’re doing is not against the law anymore.
In addition, all organizations that are working for reproductive health have a partnership with the Ministry of Health, what I can say is that we’re becoming more welded and having synergies of action.
We, in Madagascar, are really doing our best to have a large diffusion of information: when we’re listening to radios, there’s always a little talk about family planning, and so does the television, but not as much as the radio because Malagasy people have more access to radio than television.
On social media, it is often the youth organizations that are diffusing the information: each organization disseminates information with the means on board.
Thanks to your efforts and vision, the law in your country has been changed – today, young ones under the age of 18 have access to contraception. Who helped you the most throughout this journey and what was the most challenging part of it?
This advocacy process has been made through partnership, all organizations working for SRH has decided to unite their efforts and advocate for the law.
The most difficult part of the process was getting the decision makers attention and convince them. As we all know, decision makers are having a plenty of things to do on their agenda and sometimes neglect social development.
Also, we were trying to make therapeutic abortion legal but we didn’t get through.
Who do you admire the most and why?
Nadia Murad is the person that I admire the most because despite all the violence and obstacles she went through, she did not give up on her and actually still fighting for human rights.
She was kidnapped by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and sold into sex slavery.
She has even written a book about her story of captivity, her fight against the Islamic state titled The Last Girl, which has surely demanded a lot of courage that for sure not everyone has. For all of that, I truly admire her courage and behavior.
Where do you see yourself in a decade and what is your message for all the young people who are too shy to share their doubts when it comes to sexual topics and contraception?
I always like the idea of being surprised by the amazing adventure of life, so in a decade, it’s a an evident that I will see myself being happy wherever I’ll be.
My message to all young people being shy sharing their doubts when it comes to sexual topics and contraception is to start talking to online platforms (if you do have), they are a great help on counselling.
Also, start talking to your friends if parents are difficult to talk with and stay informed.
Talk to your true friends, sisters, brothers, cousins, people you truly trust – it’s just sex, no biggie.
Across Africa, people are making positive change. Here is an inspiring story from Ghana:
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