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Speaking about sex in East Africa is considered a taboo and many youth have no or little access to the information they need. Especially girls, who have been abused or raped, have often no place to get support from because they fear stigmatization from their families and from society. They often end up suffering in silence and believing that something is wrong with them. Without access to information and support, self-blame, rumors and myths are often spread. One of them is for example the wrong belief that HIV can be transmitted via kissing or that AIDS can be cured if you sleep with a virgin. This false information tremendously stigmatizes people and causes severe harm. The HIV rate in Uganda is at 7.5 percent, teenage and unwanted pregnancies are common and discrimination of women is a prevalent problem.
Ruth Nabembezi grew up in an orphanage in Uganda because her parents died of HIV. Her sister was taken to a witch doctor because the neighbors in the village thought she was attacked by demons. She also died. If she had been diagnosed and treated by medical experts, she would still be alive. Ruth joined the Social innovation Academy (SINA) in Uganda, where tragic stories are transformed into social businesses fighting the root causes of personal tragedies. In SINA she founded the startup Ask Without Shame, which provides emergency sex education via mobile and smartphone app. It is free and confidential.
She turned her personal history of suffering into the fight against a lack of awareness towards HIV and to break the taboo of speaking about sexuality. Ruth and her team has been very successful doing so: since launch in December 2015, Ask Without Shame has provided emergency sex education and support to over 8.000 users and responded to more than 15.000 questions.
Some youth have questions regarding for example HIV, menstruation, contraception or pregnancy. Others however face severe emergency situations which require immediate help. Ask Without Shame has for example prevented cases of unwanted pregnancies and transmissions of HIV and given emergency psychological support to rape victims. Users often share sensitive information with the doctors from Ask Without Shame, which they do not share with anybody else. This is information is crucial for health policies and NGO programs tackling the challenges through adequate trainings.
Ruth was invited through the German ministry for development to speak at the biggest global IT expo, CeBit. The BBC interviewed her for their program Outlook, which recognizes people from around the world who overcame difficult situations to create social impact. Her goal is to reach 250 million youth across all of Africa in the next five years and provide the right information to them in all matters ragarding sexuality.
Many users request to be treated or counseled by the Ask Without Shame medical team. That is why Ask Without Shame is planning to open their own clinic, specialized on sexual health in Uganda’s capital Kampala. With the revenue from the clinic, Ask Without Shame aims to sustain itself and its free message service. Dealing with her past in an innovative way and responding to the challenges of youth has been a healing to Ruth and with every person she is supporting, she is also empowering herself.
TAGS: Aids, education, ruth nabembezi, sex