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ADOLESCENT SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND SOCIAL NORMS IN ETHIOPIA [Abstract ID: 1101-11]
Evidence regarding Ethiopian adolescent girls’ physical health is primarily limited to the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) behaviours of those over the age of 15, with younger girls and other health care needs (including nutrition) rarely addressed. This paper explores the extent to which very young adolescents (10-12 years) have access to health-related information and services. It also pays particular attention to the extent to which adolescent girls and boys are influenced by and able to negotiate discriminatory gender norms, which push married girls to demonstrate their fertility, limit unmarried girls’ access to contraceptives despite national policies aimed at increasing uptake, and largely preclude girls’ ability to negotiate for condom use. This paper draws on mixed methods research: a survey with 6700 adolescents and qualitative research with over 200 early (10-12 years) and older (15-17 years) adolescent girls and boys, and their peers and caregivers in 2017 in Afar, Amhara and Oromia regional states. The data collection is part of the new DFID-funded multi-country Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence longitudinal policy research programme, which aims to better understand what works to enhance adolescent development trajectories. Our research focus on younger adolescents enables us to complement the existing evidence base on adolescent health, and suggests that very young adolescent girls in particular have highly limited knowledge about puberty, including menstruation and menstrual hygiene, and that for many girls the onset of menstruation can be a fearful experience, especially in contexts where it may be a marker of marriageability. The paper concludes by arguing that access to school-based girls clubs, ‘good brothers clubs’, and pro-active health extension workers, provide important sources of information for adolescents, especially since parents often reported feeling either unprepared or unwilling to play this role. The paper also discusses the role of programming in shaping adolescent boys’ understanding and practices of masculinity and the ways in which these shape their female peers’ SRH experiences.