A call has been made for the SADC Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF) and its partners to build the knowledge base of more members of parliament on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) after some MPs, especially new ones, professed ignorance of CSE.
Discussions during a joint session of Standing Committees of SADC-PF that took place in Johannesburg, South Africa last week revealed varying levels of appreciation of CSE among the region’s MPs, with others saying they had never heard of it.
However, MPs who had attended a consultative meeting on creating a legal and policy environment supportive to the implementation of the Eastern and Southern (ESA) commitment on CSE by SADC legislation that took place on the 15th and 16th of November in 2016 in Johannesburg, were conversant with CSE.
The ESA commitments go back to December 7, 2013 when ministers of health and education from 20 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa committed to improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes and to strengthening HIV prevention through access to CSE, as well as integrated sexual and reproductive health services for young people.
Specifically, the ministers pledged to reduce, by 2020, new HIV infections among young people by 90 percent, unplanned pregnancies among young women by 75 percent, and to eliminate child marriage and gender-based violence (GBV).
In July 2016 on the sidelines of the Durban AIDS Conference, ministers of health and education came together with their counterparts from gender, youth and social development to review implementation progress. They reaffirmed their commitment to prepare and support adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa with age-appropriate information and skills to enable them to make safe decisions about their life and future.
The ministers pledged to intensify efforts to ensure that young people had access to, among others, youth friendly SRH services in line with their countries’ socio-cultural contexts.
Observers say national parliaments would need to be engaged in a more systematic manner and MPs given relevant information for CSE to be effectively and efficiently delivered.
Discussions during last week’s joint sitting proved that although efforts had been made to bring the SADC region’s MPs up to speed with respect to CSE, much still remained to be done.
In an effort to fill this knowledge gap, some MPs seized the opportunity to share their knowledge of CSE with their fellow lawmakers.
Malawi lawmaker Dr Jessie Kabwila said the issue was not so much the definition of CSE as what it implies.
“CSE is a no-holds-barred complete look at what sexuality and sex is as well as when it should be taught. In a nutshell, it implies that we should be as transparent and accountable as possible in terms of sex education,” Kabwila said.
She said it was incumbent upon members of parliament, through their oversight of national budgets, to ensure that resources were made available to support efforts to enable the girl child to decide what happens to her body, when and how it happens.
Kabwila said whereas there were many people wary of offering CSE early to children, there was glaring evidence to show that children were having sex much earlier than was feared.
“In this day and era, governments need to equip young people with facts on sex and sexuality,” she said, adding that moralistic arguments against making condoms available to school learners should consider the evidence.
A contentious issue has been the age at which CSE should be offered. For Kabwila, the earlier the better.
A passionate feminist scholar, Kabwila called, also, for a new take on how boys are socialized.
“The boy child needs to be taught that his manhood is not centered on his private parts and that he has a brain, citizenship and other attributes to prove that he is a human being,” she said.
She stressed that gender is a social construct and that it would be remiss for anybody to believe that the world is exclusively made up of males and females.
She encouraged fellow MPs to learn as much about CSE as possible, warning: “We can’t fight HIV if we are not giving full information.”
Speaking on the same issue, Angolan MP Faustina Alves called for prevention, education and training on CSE.
“Prevention should be incorporated into the curricula of schools so that from the school programmes we can set up preventive measures,” she said, arguing that prevention is better than cure.
Alves said if boys and girls were educated about their bodies and problems that can arise in their development early in life, that would better prepare them for adulthood.
“We could also set up awareness programmes to deal with taboos and beliefs that are entrenched in society with regard to sexuality,” she said.
Noting that many parents seldom talked to their children about sex and sexuality due to cultural and other considerations, Alves also called for programmes to build the capacity of parents to support CSE.
“It is important to convey the message at different levels of our populations so that from the household we can convey the message of prevention. We could also engage civil society, churches, traditional leaders and other NGOs so that we can get solidarity and awareness campaigns with themes that are to the point so that people can appreciate that we are addressing a national public health issue.”
Alves said, also, that it was important that sufficient human, financial and other resources are made available to deliver CSE. She suggested that appropriate awareness building programmes be developed, piloted and rolled out to all parts of the country including rural areas to stop promiscuity and other vices.
“Parliamentarians, through their oversight function, can track these programmes to see how they are being implemented,” she said.
Namibian MP Sebastian Karuupu, who attended the joint sitting with fellow MP Agnes Limbo, said the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture and that of Health and Social Services were championing CSE in Namibia. He said he would advocate for a relevant parliamentary committee to undertake outreach visits to various communities to support initiatives to roll out CSE.
“We will also come up with relevant motions in parliament,” he said.