Comprehensive Sexuality Education Is Not Sex Education Says Experts

SEXUAL and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) experts have reiterated that Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE)  was key to empowering young people in and out of out school to make informed decisions about their life choices.  

By Michael Gwarisa

Speaking during a virtual discussion that was organised by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and Right Here Right Now (RHRN), Mr Sendisa Ndlovu, the Programs Officer for SAYWHAT said CSE was not about sex education but embraces the aspects of children’s rights and empowerment which in turn prevent them from falling prey to gender and sexual abuse.

If you are talking about CSE, there are important elements and I will start with what is not CSE. So, what is not CSE, it is not about teaching learners, students, and young people to indulge in sex, its not about that.

“CSE is an age appropriate and scientifically proven methodology of delivering sexuality education to learners. Take note of the fact that its age appropriate you then have to classify your learners according to age and then define learning objectives to say what do you u want to teach at this age. We are using science and evidence on what to teach on not we don’t just suggest opinions of what people think,” said Mr Ndlovu.

He added that concept of CSE was not as new as many might want to think as it has always been delivered in schools though in bits and pieces during science and biology lessons.

“The only difference now is that we are moving a bit up and say we want to focus on the totality of it  not just learn about the anatomy or biology the reproduction. We want to prepare students socially and emotionally to embrace their sexuality.

“Sexuality is the total expression of who we are as human beings. It starts from birth to death because we are human beings. So we have to understand ourselves, our human development and how it affects others sexually and how it affects others. So it’s no longer just about labeling parts, its about preparing young people to make informed choices about their growing up.”

Since the passing of the Zimbabwe School Health Policy in 2018, the focus has been to ensure that authorities in schools should implement the policy with a bias towards CSE. CSE helps young people to protect their health, rights and dignity.

Ms Tendaishe Changamire the National Coordinator for RHRN said the CSE comes in various packages and varies from country to country.

“CSE is a human rights-based approach and its also gender focus. Apart from just looking at the human anatomy, you are also looking at human development and reproductive systems. In various countries it comes in various packages and different titles

“In some areas, its called life skills education, in some areas it’s called HIV education. In terms of understanding our body anatomy we also understand our behaviors not just on ourselves but also to other people. This is why we are saying CSE must be scientific. We need to start understanding that sexuality and sex are natural processes and children need to understand and be equipped that when they start feeling these things, they know how to deal with them,” said Ms Changamire.

Princess Mharire from Young Advocates Zimbabwe said it was encouraging that young people were now keen to learn about Comprehensive sexuality education unlike in the old days when some issues around sexuality were treated as very sensitive and taboo.

“It is very impressing that young people want open discussion these days. They are no longer comfortable with vague descriptions to issues. We are getting into an age where there is a clamor from young people to discuss these issues.

“This is one of the values of CSE, we are saying we should not disrespect their cultures and we can’t be disregarding their cultures. Amongst the young people what are their culture and values. With CSE, we start from the individual up to the community. We take into account the family values and cultural beliefs and packaging it together with CSE,” said Princess.

However, organisations such as PLAN International have been instrumental in advocating for CSE across all districts in Zimbabwe and in all countries they are present. At teacher capacity level, Plan International works with Ministry of Education to ensure in-service training so that teachers also are equipped to deliver CSE in the classroom. They also promote the creation of safe spaces in schools through health clubs etc so that children have a great platform to talk to peers about their sexuality.

CSE awareness is also happening with traditional leaders, religious leaders, parents etc because these can be gatekeepers to the delivery of CSE. Plan International Zimbabwe Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Technical Lead, Rachel Goba said the CSE program does not just focus on in-school individuals but goes into communities and families.

“There is that assumption that CSE is actually teaching children about sex which is the wrong assumption that is out there. It also talks to issues around values which values we need to keep as a society that are important in terms self-development as young people and also important to have conversation happen at community level.

“It teaches issues around  healthy and respectful family lives and how to navigate in terms of interpersonal relationships and also cultural and social norms which also foster issues of gender equality and also remove issues around non-discrimination and violence against the girl child,” said Goba.

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