I have recently had the opportunity to interact with a few teenage mothers. The two I spoke to extensively were 16 and 19 respectively. No, they are not victims of rape; in fact the fathers of their children are their age-mates.
That teenagers are a blend of high levels of ignorance and high levels of arrogance in a brain that cannot fully access risk, and consequence is not news to anyone who has interacted with them, or who remembers their own adolescence. Psychologists even argue that this lack of risk-versus-consequence is a biological necessity so that teens can experiment with different things and perspectives, fully individuate and finally leave the nest. If they were too clear about the dangers that lie outside of home and family, they might never leave.
That said, speaking with these young women was an eye opener. They both have three-year-olds. The 16-year-old is still in school while the 19-year-old is working at an MPesa till. The 16-year-old is single and dating, while the older one is dating the father of her son but he seems reluctant to take responsibility, marry her or even provide. Their big ambition is to get good jobs, work hard and buy a car.
The 19-year-old's parents think it is just a matter of time before she gets pregnant again; while the 16-year-old actually managed to get pregnant last term and had an abortion over the Christmas break. It was after this procedure that I was asked to speak to both girls, and as you can imagine I didn’t know what to say.
We met for tea and I asked them both to tell me their stories. I decided to speak to them as the grown women that they think they are. I suggested that they be safe even while continuing to have sex and that they postpone the second baby until they had the job that could finance the car. I told them about condoms, and that they shouldn’t ask the men or boys they are having sex with to put them on. Instead I showed them how to put them on the men and told them to say, "I am saving unprotected sex for marriage". They laughed and said they think they can do that.
In speaking to them, I got that though they think they are empowered by being sexually active, they actually have very little say in when and how their sex lives play out. The 16-year-old did not even know that she could turn a man down or refuse his advances, let alone how to do it.
What saddens me with girls in general is how gullible and acquiescent they are. We do young women a disservice when we claim that their good manners have such high value. Boys have an easier time saying no and laughing off things that appear ridiculous to them. Perhaps we should start gifting our girls for saying no? For putting their needs first? These two young women might be living very different lives if they were actually taught to say no and not simply told that they should use the word in sexual situations. Maybe if they were more bad-mannered our girls would be spared the harsh consequences of (insert playground intonation) ‘bad manners’?