Comprehensive Sexuality Education must be continued

Comprehensive Sexuality Education must be continued

Date: October 21, 2020
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By Shamiso Chigorimbo

Johannesburg, 16 October 2020: Members of the Zambia parliament recently shot down a regressive motion that sought suspension of teaching Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in schools pending wider consultations by stakeholders.

News reports indicate that majority of Members of Parliament voted against this proposed suspension.

While there were Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Faith Based Organisations urging Members of Parliament to vote for the suspension of CSE pending consultations , there were CSO and teachers’ unions who came together under the banner Pro-CSE who complement the Zambian Government efforts in implementing CSE in schools who welcomed guidance provided by Vice President of Zambia, Inonge Wina on the floor of the National Assembly on 2nd October 2020 that government will initiate wide consultation with key stakeholders to inform the review of CSE framework.

SRHR Africa Trust, Zambia Director, Lenganji Nanyangwe, noted that, “The Private members’ motion to suspend CSE in schools proposed by MP Sebastain Kopulande, was not consistent with the executive order by the Vice President of Zambia Her Honour Inonge Wina that allowed for a review of the CSE Curriculum prior to any debate on whether it should be withdrawn from implementation in Zambian schools. The CSE Task Force was in full support of the executive order because, indeed the introduction of CSE in Zambia and eventual integration of the same in the Zambia School curriculum was necessitated by significant wide and inclusive consultations. It was premised on a strong National legal and policy framework and in the context of regional, continental and indeed global protocols, such as the Education Act No. 23 of 2011, the Maputo Protocol, The SADC Gender Protocol and the Sustainable Development Goals 3,4 and 5, all of which Zambia is party to. It demands therefore that the review of CSE in Zambia is robust and is done in cognizant of broader commitments we have made as a Country and importantly should be domesticated in the context of Health and Educational needs of our children and the community at large.”

The Anti-CSE proponents have seen CSE in schools as eroding their Christian values and cultural norms arguing that the CSE curriculum in its current state should be more accurately called ‘abortion, promiscuity and gay rights education” instead.

In Zambia CSE is integrated in other subjects within the Zambian school curriculum advantageously removing the perceived additional strain that a stand-alone subject might otherwise add to both learners and teachers. Integrating CSE into other classes decreases the pressure to create space in the school day to teach a new subject and removes the need to bring on board a dedicated, specially trained instructor. Therefore, the suspension of the CSE curriculum will in effect affect the delivery of other subjects in Zambia.

Speaking at a Regional SRHR virtual meeting, Lubna Bhayani, Senior Advisor, Funding and Influence at Frontline AIDS noted that, CSE is essential for young people to be able to protect themselves from unintended pregnancies and HIV – the two biggest killers of young women and adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa. Integrating CSE into school curricula provides the opportunity for young people to engage in discussion on sex, gender, rights, sexuality and sexual orientation and is a key strategy to guaranteeing bodily autonomy and ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights are upheld and protected.

The recently launched SRHR SADC Gender Protocol Barometer conveyed the threat of COVID-19 on the gains made in adolescent sexual reproductive health and rights (ASRHR). The Barometer quotes Zambian activist and counsellor Nsofwa Petronella Sampa who notes that worries the restrictions placed on young people due to COVID-19 will impede their access to SRHR services.

National governments in the SADC region are continuously confronted by conservative views that CSE encourages young people to become more promiscuous especially when the discussion is accompanied by high rates of teenage pregnancy. The veracity is that many factors contribute to the moral and social challenges related to ASRHR.

There is need for continued awareness and advocacy work within CSOs, Faith based organisations and the community on the scientific evidence of the benefits of CSE and what it sets out to achieve. To their credit  Zambia has a history of commissioning and undertakes research studies to monitor delivery and quality of CSE, including tracking of progress made towards policies such as the National AIDS Strategic Framework (2011-2016 and 2017-2021) and the Adolescent Health Strategic Framework (2010-2016 and 2017-2021)[1].

Similarly, Tanzania’s contested views on CSE have caused a turn in the policy expelling pregnant girls from school. While the motion and bill has not as yet been officially passed in parliament, commitments have been made. Human Rights Watch reports that, following the approval of a World Bank education loan under the country’s Secondary Education Quality Improvement Project (SEQUIP), the Tanzania government will be required to alter its policy of discriminating against pregnant students, adolescent mothers, and married girls. Following threats of arrest and detention, women’s rights organisations in Tanzania have been working quietly on assisting pregnant teenage youth without public recognition and mention. The matter remains extremely sensitive among Tanzania’s civil society and in its engagement with government.

The take away and learning as schools have reopened in these COVID-19 pandemic times is continued commitment and evidence based research in tackling the misconceptions about CSE. It is crucial that CSE and Adolescent SRHR advocacy and awareness raising goes beyond passing of motions that reverse progress made to actual countering challenges beliefs and perceptions and ensuring age appropriate CSE benefits young people.

[1] UNESCO.2017 CSE Scale Up in Practice: Case studies from Eastern and Southern Africa. [accessed 25 April 2020]

Shamiso Chigorimbo is the Alliance Manager at Gender Links. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary News Service

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