Sitting outside Lilongwe Youth Life Centre on a sunny Thursday afternoon, 24-year-old Rodrick is glued to his phone. When asked to show some of his posts, he asks “what do you want to see, Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook?”
Rodrick and his friends laugh at a post of a smiling cartoon condom fighting off multicoloured STIs.
SheDecides promotes change through social media
Rodrick is a trained Social Media Agent for SheDecides, a movement empowering youth to champion the rights of girls and women to make choices about their lives and bodies and have access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education.
“Social networks are developing each and every day, so more young people are now on social media,” explains Rodrick, adding that many young people don’t have access to books to read about sexual and reproductive health and rights.
“It’s better to reach them on social media so they can see it,” says Rodrick, although he admits that many people in Malawi cannot afford internet data bundles on their phones.
He says that he and other Youth Action Movement volunteers try to get out daily posts on social media channels to educate other young people about the issues they are passionate about.
“One day I posted asking why the government of Malawi doesn’t legalize abortion, which I think is not good for the girls because they have their lives to live,” says Rodrick, adding that he believes abortion can keep more girls in education. Rodrick says that while people don’t always agree with him, he enjoys discussing the topic on social media. “People ask ‘are you a real man?’” he laughs.
"I debate so much, and I like that! And sometimes I convince people that what I’m saying is right.”
Supporting young people through personal challenges
As well as getting into lively debates on social media, Rodrick says he is often sent private messages by young people who feel they can open up to him as a peer with knowledge about sexual health.
A 16-year-old girl messaged Rodrick on WhatsApp, telling him she had been raped and was pregnant. “I asked her if she was comfortable with the pregnancy and she said no, how can I be comfortable with a pregnancy that I didn’t want to come to me?”
She then asked Rodrick how he could help her with the issue. “I said I will help you, though I’m not the person responsible I’ll take you to the person who is so they can handle that issue.” Rodrick then met up with the girl, who went on to access abortion counselling. He says that the case also went to court, and is awaiting the verdict.
“We always say this thing can be done by a male, and this thing can be done by a female,” says Rodrick, talking about gender inequality and his involvement in SheDecides. “But that’s not right. We’re all humans and should be able to do whatever he or she wants to do.”