I am who I am today because I was given an education, had access to medical care, was listened to, and was supported through the different stages of growing up. My family believed in me! When I look back at the most challenging stage while growing up, I can’t think of any other besides my adolescent years. I worried about how to beat boys in class, my appearance, my body changes, self esteem among others. I was able to go through all these because of the support of my family, mentors, friends and teachers.
Some of the girls growing up in the city are envied by their peers in the rural areas, and are considered to have access to a lot of resources (the good stuff). It’s true there are many opportunities in cities that make life beautiful. While this is true, it is worth noting that an adolescent girl in Kampala, Jinja, Tororo faces unique challenges compared to a girl living in a rural village in Masaka, Kabale or Mityana.
Between 10-19 years, the body is gradually and constantly changing and the teenage girl has to cope with it the new appearance. This is the time when she begins getting concerned about her beauty, figure and what kind of clothes she is wearing. She will begin to see and hear about these figure-perfect bodies of some of the peers, the people she idolizes or watches on TV.
Parents/guardians or teachers should let their girl know that she is just as beautiful as any other girl. She also needs to be watched and monitored so that she doesn’t adapt unhealthy eating habits. It is also helpful to patiently explain to her that everybody is different. We are all unique and we all have our own set of positives and negatives.
Adolescence is transitioning from girlhood to womanhood, from more playful moments to helping out more often with domestic chores. They experience rapid social, physical, and emotional changes. It comes with body changes that sometimes send the wrong signal to some girls; sexual maturity and sexual relations compound the challenges of adolescent girls. Unsafe sexual relations can threaten progress toward healthy development. It increases the risk of early pregnancies and marriages and consequently adolescent motherhood.
Promoting the health of adolescents ensures that they live longer and more productive lives. Increasing access to information and materials about consequences of unprotected sex, such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS will empower girls to make informed choices and decisions about their bodies.
Identifying and investing in girls who are most vulnerable to these risks will ensure adolescents emerge from this period with not only life skills but also the economic and social assets necessary for the future.
The 2013 Adolescent Girls Vulnerability Index report by Sajena Amin et al highlights that Investing appropriately in adolescents is not only vital for adolescents themselves, but is a vital investment for societies and economies as a whole, particularly those going through a demographic transition.
As we look at the challenges that girls are facing, we should be cognizant of the remarkable strength, resiliency, progress and achievements they are showing through their adolescent years. They are talented and would become better if empowered through information sharing, skills development, and mentorship, all of which would help them build and strengthen their confidence and self esteem to channel that adolescent energy in a positive direction.