BY LUCY JOBITA
Last month, the Ministry of Health (MoH) launched a guidebook dubbed, ‘Understanding Adolescence’ to assist parents and teachers in the country in dealing with diverse teen issues. The guidebook seeks to help adolescents understand topics on healthy relationships, abstinence, drugs and substance abuse, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and mental health among others.
Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) addresses all these issues. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) defines CSE as a rights-based and gender-focused approach to sexuality education that includes information about contraception, sexually transmitted infections, human rights violation including gender-based violence and sexual abuse, human development as well as reproductive health.
Many people who vocally oppose CSE often overlook the “comprehensive” part of the issue, and they fixate on the misunderstanding that CSE only promotes sexual activity among young people and says nothing about the more traditional topics like abstinence.
Parents and teachers should place top measures on abstinence to delay the adolescents’ sexual debut and nurture them to make informed decisions regarding their sexuality. But simply saying “no” will not work. Curious adolescents will want to know why they are being told to wait.
They will want to understand the issues and the dangers. As the saying goes, “forbidden fruit is the sweetest”, forbidding sexual activity and refusing to talk about sex will only encourage dangerous sexual behavior among adolescents.
CSE must be partnered with efforts from the MoH and Ministry of Education to ensure ready access to Sexual and Reproductive Health services. Only then will CSE be effective in improving health outcomes for adolescents such as prevention of HIV, unintended pregnancies, and maternal deaths.
A truly “comprehensive” sexuality education is one that provides young people with honest, age-appropriate information and skills necessary to help them take personal responsibility for their health and overall wellbeing. It helps them to engage in sex, or abstain, for good reasons.
CSE needs to be critically understood by different stakeholders such as parents, community members, religious leaders and politicians in order to promote comfort and understanding of the ideologies affecting the young people.
As we approach this tense electioneering period, we need strong political will and engagement of stakeholders including parents and religious leaders who will ensure CSE is fully understood. This will mitigate any arising misconceptions and ensure its adaptation to local culture and context.
We also need continued efforts to work with the local governments to help them understand the long-term benefits of CSE and the involvement of parents, religious leaders and adolescents themselves.
Ms Jobita is a reproductive health advocate at Youth Alive! Kenya