Can a woman ask her partner to use a condom if she knew he has a sexually transmitted disease? Can a woman say no to her husband if she does not want to have sex? In the efforts to protect girls from harassment, HIV, teenage pregnancy and other issues related to sexual and reproductive health, many schools in Ethiopia have established girls’ clubs where girls could meet, get information, support each other and discuss their problems. Boys or young men did not participate. Such approach has not brought the desired results. Only 35 percent of girls between 15 and 19 years of age think that they can ask their partner to use a condom if they knew he has sexually transmitted disease. More than half of them cannot say no to their husband if they do not want to have sex (EDHS 2016).

In addition, excluding boys and young men from interventions empowering girls, can lead to increase in violence against women, because men can feel threatened.

ECYDO’s projects use innovative approach, which actively involves boys and young men. In our projects, we establish boy’s group at school compound, celebrate boys’ day, and reward best performing boys and young men who start to help with house chores, have stop doing any form of harassment against girls, or advocate for equitable relationships between boys and girls. Within our activities, we conduct discussion among girls and boys to reduce to provide space for young to talk about they are normally too shy or afraid to talk about. By challenging existing attitudes and providing needed information, we aim at reducing gender-based violence and other problems related to sexual and reproductive health of school youths.

At the same time, our interventions establish and strengthen partnership with relevant stakeholders, such as school administrations, health care providers, psycho-social support, youth organizations, parents, policy and local governments.

Engaging boys and young men and create responsive environment can in a gender-sensitive way end HIV, prevent teenage pregnancy and bring shift from unequal, violent relationships to relationships where partners respect each other.

HIV is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age worldwide (UN). In Ethiopia, only twenty percent of women and 38% of men age 15-49 have comprehensive knowledge about the modes of HIV transmission and prevention. One in ten girls has first sexual experience before the age of 15.

At the same time, the proportion of people getting tested on HIV is very low. Only one fifth of people got tested in the last 12 months.

Women are at higher risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. This risk is further increase by violence and harmful attitudes where 30 percent of women believe that women cannot refuse sex with her husband if she knows he had sex with other woman, and 40 percent believe that she cannot ask him to wear a condom if she knows he has a sexually transmitted disease. Only 45 percent of women can say no to their husbands if they do not want to have sex and only 30 percent can ask them to wear a condom.

Early start of sexual life and early marriage further aggravates the issues. Only 35 percent of women use any modern form of contraception. Among women age 15-19, 10 percent are already mothers and 2 percent are pregnant with their first child.

Adolescent and youth (10-29 years) constitute 42 percent of Ethiopia’s rapidly growing population estimated to 88.4 million inhabitants. They can represent an enormous potential for economic growth. However, the existing challenges in sexual and reproductive health of young people need to be addressed. Young people lack access to information. Sexual education is not part of the school curricula. Majority of young people do not talk about the issue with their parents. ECYDO increases in its intervention the knowledge of HIV transmission and other sexually transmitted diseases, talks with the young people about puberty, pregnancy prevention and respectful relationships. ECYDO uses the power of theatre, music and other entertaining forms to convey the messages to young people in the most natural way. At the same time, we engage young people to become the agents of change themselves.

The only word that can describe the fact that 65 percent of women in Ethiopia age 15-49 are circumcised, i.e. have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM) in their childhood or puberty, a procedure when parts of their intimate area are cut and modified.

According to recent data, the number and prevalence has dropped. According to their mothers, 16% of girls age 0-14 are circumcised. However, the number relies on self-reporting of mothers, and maybe thus underestimated. FGM is illegal in Ethiopia. Therefore, it is possible that the procedure is still ongoing, but happens in more secrecy, behind closed doors and at night. The law enforcement is weak. Only a very few persons have been penalized for performing it. The government of Ethiopia is currently preparing a campaign to end FGM and identified the following key areas to get closer to it: improving availability of data; strengthening coordination; putting in place accountability to enhance enforcement of the existing law; and increasing the budget for the effort to end the practice altogether or decrease it by 10%.

Myths around this dangerous, dreadful procedure cause this harmful tradition to continue. Almost a quarter of women, 24%, believe that the practice is required by their religion, and 18% believe that the practice should continue. More interestingly, men support the procedure less than women. However, missing information and missing dialogue between genders and generations create misunderstandings in expectations and prolong the struggle.

ECYDO works with communities, increases awareness about FGM/C, provides opportunity to talk about the issue and communicate views, challenge views, and removes these myths in order to stop it for good.

Existing evidences show that the major sexual and reproductive health problems of adolescents and youth in Ethiopia include risky sexual practices, child marriage, early child bearing, unintended pregnancy, unsafe abortion and its complications and STIs including HIV. Early sexual debut and teenage pregnancies are common owing to the high rate of child marriages and the subsequent family and societal pressure on girls to prove their fertility. The median age at first sex for women is 16.4 years (PMA, 2015). Uneducated, poor and rural girls start sex at younger age compared to the educated, well-to-do and urban. About 40% of girls marry before the age of 18 years and 20% before 15. About of half (45%) of girls in Amhara marry before the age of 18. The consequences of child marriage are many. Above all, early initiation of sexual intercourse is a risk for unintended pregnancy which in turn is the major reason for undesirable health and socioeconomic consequences mainly induced/unsafe abortion, high fertility, obstructed labor and its complications such as obstetric fistula, and hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. High rate of unintended pregnancy is also associated with the low utilization of family planning services by young people. The current contraceptive prevalence rate of 9% and unmet need of 30% among teenage girls (15-19) are among the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa. This is due to low access to adolescent and youth friendly services including family planning in this age group compared to older women.

Furthermore, lack of skilled care during pregnancy and delivery in this age group also poses significant health risk to the mothers and their children compared to older women in the reproductive age group. Adolescences particularly characterized by menarche among girls. In Ethiopia, most girls are in school between the ages 10-14 years, coinciding with menarche. Although menstrual management is included, many girls do not always have the right information on how to deal with it. Studies indicate that only 51% of school girls know about menstruation and its management, only one-third use sanitary napkins as menstrual absorbent during menstruation and, a high proportion (>50%) avoid going to school at the time of menstruation (Tegene et. al, 2014).

In Ethiopia, half of the girls get married before 17.1 years of age. Three quarters of them then immediately drop school. In some cases because they are busy with the house chores, in some cases because the new husband does not allow them to continue. This reduces significantly their education and personal development, and later on, also health and development of their children. Statistics prove that women with lower education are at higher risk of gender-based violence, maternal mortality; their children are more at risk of malnutrition, not receiving important vaccinations and health care. The worth of women in Ethiopia is measured based on the role she plays as a wife and mother.
More than 85 percent of Ethiopian women live in rural areas. They experience extreme hardship in their lives, doing everything from carrying heavy loads over long distances, cooking, raising children, working at home and manually grinding corn. They have far less opportunities for education, employment, and personal growth when compared to men. At the same time, only 37 percent of men assist with house chores, from which majority only rarely.
Access to health services is often limited, and hygienic conditions in rural areas are unacceptable. Girls do not have any means of managing their periods and skip school when they have their days to avoid embarrassment. Absolute lack of safe, private and clean toilets or clean water at schools create additional barrier for girls to attend school.

Some changes in the way women in Ethiopia are treated can be noticed in urban areas, where they can access health care, employment, and education. However, for the majority of girls and women early marriage remains the only way of securing their future.

Our organization continues to work toward ending gender inequality and empowering women in access to education, finding funding and jobs opportunities and setting their goals. ECYDO works towards changing the social norms and challenging the gender stereotypes by dialogues with communities. The potential of girls and women can be an enormous contribution to the socio-economic development of the society.