Florida Uzoaru — Using Technology to Break the Silence on Sexual HealthBy Temitayo Olofinlua
Published: December 20, 2016
This is part of our 2016 Radiant Health Women of Action series. The Radiant Health Women of Action is our annual highlight of inspiring African women taking action and doing remarkable work to improve the health and well-being of Africans.
Sexuality is a rarely discussed topic in Nigeria. When it is discussed, it is in hushed tones or cloaked in shame and guilt, especially among young people. Making matters worse, many health-care practitioners bring their biases onboard when dealing with clients, which has led people to make poor choices with lifelong effects. Florida Uzoaru, a public health and policy graduate and the founder of MerDroits, is leveraging the power of the internet to address these issues.
MerDroits — an amalgamation of the French word merde, which means “sex” and droits, meaning “rights” — began officially in February 2016, when Uzoaru opened a Twitter account. Now, every Friday at 6 p.m., different hosts share their stories on sex and sexuality. Some write anonymously, while others reveal their identities.
Uzoaru hopes for a time when everyone can speak freely about sex. With the byline “Destigmatising all conversations about sex,” her Twitter account now has more than 1,000 followers and over 13,000 tweets. MerDroits sparks conversations on “taboo” subjects, such as anal sex, abortion, domestic violence, rape, child sexual abuse, sexual assault, consent, birth control, vaginal atrophy and more.How Florida Uzoaru of @MerDroits is using tech to breakdown Nigeria's culture of silence on sexual issues Click To Tweet
Through regular conversations on Twitter and Facebook, MerDroits creates safe, judgment-free spaces where young people can talk about their sexual and reproductive health. #MerDroits60 focuses on personal sex stories, and #WhatResearchSays debunks sexual myths with research. Uzoaru believes that technology is central to the key goal of disseminating information about sex rights, as it is affordable, accessible, and provides anonymity.
“Technology has made things easy, cheaper. Being online, you can reach far more people than you would have offline. What about safety? You are not thinking of the dangers associated with long-distance travel,” says Uzoaru.
She also points out that in a society with a weak medical infrastructure, access to sexual and reproductive health is a double burden.
“Many ‘traditional’ healthcare spaces are clogged with cultural bias that considers some subjects taboo, and this jeopardizes access to quality treatment,” she says, adding, “Breaking through the wall is hard because many Nigerians are still uncomfortable to talk about [their] sexual and reproductive health.”
Uzoaru is busy working on a strategy for MerDroits to have an impact offline as well. With three facets to the business — an online shop for contraceptives; access to qualified, unbiased sexual and reproductive health practitioners; and access to laboratories for tests — MerDroits hopes to improve the availability of quality sexual and reproductive health care without stigma.
Composed of six doctors and a pharmacist, the MerDroits online store has kicked off in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, and Uzoaru looks forward to further growth.
“In five years, I hope we can operate nationally. I hope we can have about 100 doctors, 100 pharmacists and many nurses. There are a lot of things they can do for us, particularly some contraceptives that medical personnel can insert for us,” she says. “Many say that they had always wanted to be part of a group like this. People are also now confident to ask almost any question without that fear of reproach.”
Beyond the internet, Uzoaru looks forward to eventually running a sex clinic where all of these needs can be met.
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