By Guylaine Lema
About thirty asylum seekers and refugees, last month, received certificates on empowerment with focus on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights after a ten week course.
The course took place in Limerick and Dublin and was undertaken by the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) and with contributions from the National Network of African and Migrant Women living in Ireland, AkiDwA.
The course, titled, Majira, a Swahili word meaning, ‘Family Planning,’ or ‘Seasons’ (as pregnancy in Africa is commonly planned by seasons), seeks to improve the sexual and reproductive health of asylum seekers and refugees and to also give them the tools to discuss issues such as STIs, HIV/AIDS, sexual health, female circumcision, otherwise known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM,) domestic violence, safe-sex negotiation and women’s health services.
Seventeen women received certificates during the graduation ceremony in Limerick that was presided over by Deputy Jan O’Sullivan. Twelve others received theirs in the ceremony held at the Mansion House, Dublin, and attended by, amongst many officials, Dublin Lord Mayor, Cllr Emer Costello and Senator Fiona O’Malley, representatives from the EU Commission, Women’s Aid, Pobal and the Crisis Pregnancy Agency.
Commending the course, The Lord Mayor of Dublin, said, it "empowers women" and gives them the tools to "network with other women," adding that: "I know that this course will have a major impact on the communities you go back to and will also impact on future policy in Ireland."
Also speaking at the occasion, Senator O’Malley, congratulated the IFPA and AkiDwA on the success of the programme and the participants’ achievements. She highlighted that everyone has a role to play in improving the environment in which women face barriers to sexual and reproductive health care.
"This involves challenging restrictive gender roles at every level and across cultures, having recognition from service providers that women have a right to culturally competent and dignified health care, policies that reflect women’s human rights to sexual and reproductive health and also supporting communities to articulate their specific needs."
Majira Programme Officer with the IFPA, Lynn Harnedy, said, Female refugees and women seeking asylum face unique challenges to achieving sexual and reproductive health and the Majira project seeks to address these vulnerabilities.
Barriers include lack of information about available services, negative attitudes from front-line health workers and communication difficulties. In addition, they can face issues such as strict gender roles within families, female genital mutilation and higher risk of domestic violence.
"Finally, vulnerability to sexual violence particularly within reception centre makes them more at risk of STIs and crisis pregnancies. Travel restrictions due to immigration status can result in illegal abortion. As women are empowered to express their needs, access services and assert their rights in relation to sexual and reproductive health, they not only improve their own health and wellbeing but also are empowered in other areas of their life," Lynn Harnedy continued.
A study carried out by the IFPA indicated that countries with the highest number of asylum applicants to Ireland often have the lowest levels of modern family planning. Also, other research showed that women belonging to ethnic minorities experience significant barriers to accessing medical care; meanwhile, organisations working with migrant communities have identified sexual and reproductive health as a particular area of concern.
Statistics show that there are 420,000 foreign nationals living in Ireland and representing 10 per cent of the whole population. Of this figure, there are about 2000 women and girls of reproductive age (13- 45) living in direct-provision accommodation in Ireland while about 2,500 women living in Ireland have undergone female circumcision.
Meanwhile, the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) has been to the fore in setting the agenda for sexual and reproductive rights in Ireland for the last 40 years. The IFPA offers a comprehensive range of services designed to promote sexual health and support reproductive choice. It works with people of all age, gender, nationality and sexual orientation and offers sexual and reproductive health services, pregnancy counselling and education and training on a not-for-profit basis.