By Mark Gachagua



Very often, sexuality education is interpreted through a narrow understanding and resolutely focussed on sexual contact. Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is defined as an age‐appropriate, culturally relevant approach to teaching about sex and relationships by providing scientifically accurate, realistic, non‐judgemental information. Sexuality Education offers opportunities to explore one’s own values and attitudes and to build decision‐making, communication and risk reduction skills about many aspects of sexuality[1]. Rutgers sees sexuality education as a lifelong learning process about the cognitive, emotional, social, interactive and physical issues of sexuality. It progressively equips and empowers children and young people by acquiring information and forming positive beliefs, values and attitudes about identity, relationships and intimacy, and by supporting them with skills to be able to communicate and make their own decisions in the area of sexuality, sexual health and well-being.

My passion for advocacy and Sexuality Education began when I got my first beard. I was only 16, young, energetic and naïve. I was curious to know more about sexuality, but I wouldn’t dare ask anyone. It was wrong to inquire about sexuality. Growing up in one of Nairobi’s informal settlements, Mathare, I observed many cases of gender-based violence, adolescent pregnancies, high prevalence of HIV infections, and a life of crime which was accepted as a norm. I always wondered if there is something I could do to make a difference in the lives of young people, who were the most affected. I wanted to be the change I wanted to see. As a teenager, I was fortunate enough to learn about sexuality. The CSE programme was funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Netherlands and implemented by Rutgers. It was ICT based and focused on crucial topics like body changes, drug and substance abuse, healthy relationships, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and gender. All the questions I was afraid to ask were answered, and in fact, I got more information. I felt empowered! This sparked a strong passion in me to help other young people find answers, and of course, avoid falling prey to STIs and gender-based violence. To date, I have trained more than five hundred young people on sexuality, reached more than a million people with sexual and reproductive health information through media, and engaged more than a hundred leaders and policymakers on sexuality education and reproductive health of young people.

Studies show that sexuality education moderates risky sexual behaviour among young people. This qualifies that when young people are well-informed about their sexuality, then the probability of engaging in risky sexual behaviour decreases. CSE plays a vital starring role in the preparation of young people for a safe, dynamic, satisfying life in a world where HIV/AIDS, (STIs), adolescent pregnancies, gender-based violence (GBV) and gender disparity still pose severe risks to their well-being.

On 7 December 2013, Ministers of Health and Education from 20 countries in East and Southern Africa (ESA) declared and adopted the ESA Ministerial Commitment on CSE. The ministers of education and health committed to ensuring delivery of quality CSE in the ESA region. Specifically, ministers committed to initiating and scale-up age-appropriate CSE during primary school education to reach most adolescents before puberty, before most become sexually active, and before the risk of HIV transmission or unintended pregnancy increases. Using agreed international standards, ensure that CSE is age, gender and culturally appropriate, rights-based and includes core elements of knowledge, skills and values as preparation for adulthood. The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action (PoA), Resolution 2014/1 urges governments, the international community and all other relevant stakeholders to give particular attention to integrated and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, and by ensuring the access of adolescents and youth to full and accurate information and education on sexual and reproductive health, including evidence-based comprehensive education on human sexuality, and promotion, respect, protection and fulfilment of all human rights, especially the human rights of women and girls, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. [2]

 

There is a strong international commitment to promoting the provision of CSE among young people. Agreements such as Convention on the Rights of the Child, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and  Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities show support for CSE. The Nairobi Summit will mark the 25th Anniversary for ICPD. The summit will provide an opportunity for governments and other stakeholders to revamp their commitment to ensuring access for adolescents and youth to comprehensive and age-appropriate information, education and adolescent-friendly, comprehensive, quality and timely services to be able to make informed choices about their sexuality and reproductive lives, to adequately protect themselves from unintended pregnancies, gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, and to be able to transition safely and happily into adulthood (Nairobi Summit 2019).

I believe the time is ripe for governments in East and Southern Africa to invest in teaching CSE. Zambia is implementing a gender-responsive CSE programme and is a signatory to the ESA Ministerial Commitment on CSE. The curriculum in Zambia places great emphasis on puberty, HIV prevention, gender equality, sexual and reproductive health, relationships and human rights. It is time for more countries to operationalise and strengthen their CSE programmes. The policy framework is robust, and from this, a rich school-based curriculum should be developed to allow age-appropriate learning of CSE. The curricula should be objective, and evidence-based and apply a gender lens to addressing sexual and reproductive health issues, as opposed to promoting prescriptive and fear-based teaching approaches. The curricula should foster critical thinking for students to better comprehend sexuality and reproductive health. When this is done, we will have a healthier and productive population, fast-tracking the achievements of Sustainable Development Goals.

 

 

 

 

[1] Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. It aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to: realize their health, well-being and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others; and, understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.- International technical guidance on sexuality education UNESCO 2018

[2] The (ICPD Programme of Action, the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences, call upon government to: ‘give full attention to meeting the sexual and reproductive health-service, information and education needs of young people, with full respect for their privacy and confidentiality, free of discrimination, and to provide them with evidence-based comprehensive education on human sexuality, sexual and reproductive health, human rights and gender equality, to enable them to deal in a positive and responsible way with their sexuality’.