We have a culture that does not encourage discussions around sex or sexuality – Mallah Tabot

“Aniyah did not know how to respond to her inner turmoil, like most girls, she was uninformed of her rights towards self. Sitting silently in a dull corner of her traditional ‘Njem’ house, she was measuring the severity of guilt and finding means to lessen it.

Aniyah, (16), belonged to Ngoila, a village in the Eastern Province of Cameroon, her parents were subsistence farmers and their beliefs heavily intimidated by cultural and religious orthodoxy. Any conversation around sex or sexuality was not only forbidden, rather taken with grave silence. The unreserved Aniyah never attended school, though, she had friends within the community who did. Obliquely, but she was exposed to vulnerabilities that any young girl of her age goes through and why not, being vulnerable is an authentic state of mind, but if taken too far, it can put you at risk. Aniyah fell in love with a man twice her age. It wasn’t just love, but, a possibility that could save her from a forced marriage. An iota of self-assumed freedom made her give in, soon her secretly blooming relationship metamorphosed into a deeper level of intimacy.

While she risked herself for a securer space, a better future, she ended up being abused and deserted. Now, in the middle of examining her conscience and fixing her dilapidated life, Aniyah’s destiny took another dip when she realized, she was 2 months pregnant. Left with no recourse, Aniyah succumbed to open acceptance and her family to ultimate shame….”

You might think this is Aniyah’s story but this story belongs to several young girls of Africa living in extreme darkness that assassinates their identity every single day. Who are they? 11-year-old impregnated by a man aged 50, or 15-year-old forced into marriage to avoid rape, or 18-year-old fallen in love, impregnated, deserted and infected with HIV or many of those whose stories are still unknown.

A woman’s body is her own right that needs no vindication or submission before an external influence of any kind. Having committed to this ideology, I question the wide asymmetry in its acceptance, but, Mallah Tabot, CEO of United Vision assures me the possibility of a world where women would not have to fight for their rights any more. She possesses unborrowed vision, deep-rooted understanding of human emotions, relentless optimism and powerful aesthetics. She is a reproductive health activist from Cameroon (Central Africa) and the creator of a ‘judgment free sexuality education app’ called NDOLO360. Through her NGO United Vision, Mallah openly targets primitive mindsets, sexual vulnerabilities and lack of fundamental rights that allow women and young girls preserve the essence of their meaningful existence and be their impenitent selves.

Mallah.PNG(PC: Mallah Tabot)

 “As part of our university course requirements, we had to visit rural communities to identify their problems and find out solutions in a participatory manner. I remember visiting a community that questioned my limited understanding of this world and how it functions. I witnessed extreme poverty, girls as young as 14 were pregnant, some of the other had been married off just when they got to reproductive age and there were many facing sexual abuse and violence of all sorts. It was a very sad situation. What I saw along with my mother’s background, it did not take me long to decide my path. I wanted to focus on reproductive health, and design intervention programs against sexual violence and forced marriages.”

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(PC: Mallah Tabot)

A lot of times, our decision-making in not solely governed by rational thinking, it is also reliant on what society acknowledges, or our cultural boundaries permit. When, we make a choice or take a decision considering the latter only, we confine ourselves within the complexities of social norms and taboos. Some of which may even be acceptable and hold a valid reason for their acceptability, but, many of them do not. For instance, a conversation around SEX. When Mallah Tabot formed United Vision in 2010, it was her open call asking for CHANGE, an open invitation to have a CONVERSATION around what the societal norms had declared SHAMEFUL.

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(PC: Mallah Tabot)

United Vision leads several flagship programs that fight against tendencies and trends that deny young people, women and girls their full rights of existence – they do these by addressing their sexual and reproductive health needs and rights through education and information, or engaging in programs that aim to end violence against women or by building a community that opens up and speaks up on sexual health and sexual rights issues. They also use theatre and art to engage rural communities.

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(PC: Mallah Tabot)

NDOLO360

Sex is as normal of a human need as any other and deserves to be responsibly fed. The problem occurs when we find harmful or iniquitous means to feed it (which is generally an outcome when open conversations around sex or sexuality are avoided). Recently, United Vision has launched NDOLO360, the first mobile application and SMS service of its kind in Cameroon, which provides open, honest and judgement-free education, information and services on sexual health to teenagers, adolescents and young people who need it the most across Cameroon and sub-Saharan Africa.

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(PC: Mallah Tabot)

“We have definitely planned to grow NDOLO360 beyond a few thousand users, but for that, we need more partners and donors on board, because, with our current capacity we can only accommodate a few hundred queries per day. It’s like a daily struggle. We are looking forward to get more people, institutions, private organizations, government, donors to join us in accomplishing the vision of NDOLO360.”

The Men Project

When do we say, “CHANGE IS COMING”? It’s when people try to move beyond their characteristic cognizance to adopt what lies outside their knowledge territory, or become more receptive than resistant, or stand collectively for a goal. It’s when, they decide to take control over what they do. Change is a moment of Self-Realization. In Cameroon, family planning, pregnancy, and childbirth have long been considered exclusively a woman’s issue. Men are reluctant to visit reproductive health clinics for advice on family planning or antenatal care appointments for fear of being considered effeminate. However, CHANGE IS COMING. Through the “Men Project” funded by Paris-based HRA Foundation, Team United Vision is using the art and forum theatre to spark a community discourse and build stronger links between men and maternal health subsequently increasing their participation in family planning decisions by improving spousal support.

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(PC: Mallah Tabot)

Youth & HIV

Awareness towards self is another kind of freedom. It calls for attention, responsibility, discipline, balance, it calls for deeper understanding of human capabilities and also effective utilization of those capabilities. Self-Awareness is internally liberating. The more aware one becomes of oneself, the less one feeds its fears. Self-Awareness must not be mistaken as a choice, it should rather be endorsed as one’s right.

Young people aged 15 to 49 years constitute 46% of all new HIV Infections in Cameroon and only 6% of the state budget is allocated to health care? Since 2011, through her program Youth & HIV, Team United Vision are working with community leaders, school administrators, the local council, various local AIDS control committees (LACCs) and the community radio to drive conversations from the grassroots on HIV/AIDS. Through youth friendly programs such as, movie projections, drama, interactive learning sessions in schools, sensitization campaigns amongst others they are changing societal perceptions about sex and sexuality and challenging local myths surrounding HIV/AIDS.

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(PC: Mallah Tabot)

Mallah Tabot’s strength lies in her vision, in her unflinching faith that ‘Change is possible’, ‘Consensus is possible’, ‘Awareness is possible’, she strongly believes that women and girls’ and young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health is a basic right, and by no means they should be forced to compromise on it.

In my journey, so far, there has never been a room for complacency. Every day is a struggle and every day we register small successes that we are proud of, but we know we can’t be comfortable or happy. We need to keep striving, keep working, and get the best out it” 

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(PC: Mallah Tabot)

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(These journeys have been personally shared with me by our ‘Heroes’)

Know more about ‘Our Hero’ – Mallah Tabot

United Vision

United Vision Facebook

She.Leads.Africa

The Queen’s Young Leaders

 

 

One Comment Add yours

  1. phylys says:

    This is so true. The struggle continues everyday . God bless the change makers.

    Like

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