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How Girls Access Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Information Online

By Guest Writer on March 21, 2024

How can we harness the power of digital technology to improve adolescent girls’ and young women’s SRHR? That was the key question informing Going Online for Sexual and Reproductive Health research report.

This research listened to adolescent girls’ and young women’s lived experiences to start unpacking these complexities. The study utilized tactics such as peer interviewing and youth-led validation workshops to ensure that the interviewees felt comfortable talking about sensitive SRHR topics, while maintaining the goal of collecting in-depth, candid, and qualitative data.

The data revealed that adolescent girls and young women in India, Malawi, and Rwanda have varied experiences in accessing SRHR information online. Overall, adolescent girls and young women are turning to digital platforms as a one-stop shop, where they look for information about their bodies, their health, and their relationships.

However, they reported that they do not act on the digital information they find, partly due to a lack of trust in its credibility. Additionally, stigma and socio-cultural norms impact how adolescent girls and young women talk about and access SRHR information and services, resulting in varied and nuanced findings.

How Girls Access SRHR Information Online

1. Multiple digital platforms to access SRHR information.

Different digital platforms are used to look up SRHR information in each location. Google and YouTube are preferred in India and Rwanda, while Facebook and WhatsApp groups are preferred in Malawi. WhatsApp and Facebook are also spaces to discuss and share knowledge across locations.

Adolescent girls and young women in the study sample did not use specific SRHR-related applications or websites. The primary SRHR topics accessed online vary by location. Adolescent girls and young women in India search mostly for information on menstruation and sex. In Malawi, they search for information on contraception, sexual health, and abortion. In Rwanda, they search for information on love, relationships, and puberty.

2. Internet-enabled phones afford privacy and anonymity.

Adolescent girls and young women don’t feel comfortable discussing many SRHR issues, even with a close confidant. Hence, digital platforms are a key source of information for SRHR topics that remain taboo.

Adolescent girls and young women fear stigma and suspicion of sexual activity among peers and relatives. They fear both asking questions in person and having their online search histories scrutinized.

3. Barriers to access and challenges with digital platforms.

Adolescent girls’ and young women’s key issue with information found online was being unsure of its accuracy and validity. Therefore, they attempt to validate online information with trusted peers.

Barriers that hinder use of digital platforms for SRHR information include fears of getting inaccurate information and of being negatively influenced by information found online. For example, adolescent girls and young women might worry about accidentally ending up on a pornographic site.

4. Fear and stigma preclude acting on information

Adolescent girls and young women are wary of acting on SRHR information they find online. They reported feeling unsure of the accuracy of the information. They also reported a fear of judgment and repercussions from family members if they found out they searched for and acted on such information.

For many adolescent girls and young women, taking action, such as visiting a physical health or SRHR service center, is not a common step after finding information online.

A lightly edited synopsis of Going Online for Sexual and Reproductive Health

Filed Under: Reports, Women in Tech
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One Comment to “How Girls Access Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Information Online”

  1. Joseph says:

    This is an intriguing read considering the barriers adolescent girls and boys face accessing reliable information on SRHS. For girls and boys of a school going age, empowering teachers and the educational eco-systems to deliver high quality SRHR and comprehensive sexuality education can go a long way since most young people go to schools in developing countries. This could help offset barriers linked to accessibility to digital resources which constrains young people in most developing countries. Out of school youths can also be targeted using community based resources like Open Learning Centers and Youth friendly Corners set in places within the community where young people feel safe to freely access those centres and resources.