IN 2013, Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and other development partners under the leadership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UESCO), initiated a process to develop a regional commitment within the East and Southern Africa region.
By Michael Gwarisa
In December 2013, the political process to create the commitment was met with success as 20 Member States signed onto the new East and Southern Africa (ESA) Ministerial Commitment. These Governments thus committed themselves to work together for the good of adolescents and young people to deliver comprehensive sexuality education and SRH services.
In 2021, Ministers of Education, Health, Gender, and Youth from Eastern and Southern Africa, gathered virtually through the ICASA platform (as a hybrid conference held in Durban, South Africa, for the ESA Commitment 2021-2030. The objective of the meeting was to reaffirm the vision of supporting African adolescents and young people to be continental and global citizens who are educated, healthy, resilient, socially responsible, informed decision-makers with the capacity to contribute to their communities, countries, and region.
At regional level, the ESA Commitment gives legitimacy and pressure for the achievement of targets by the Member States. To date, some countries in the ESA region have made significant progress in terms Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE).
Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is a curriculum-based process of participatory teaching and learning about aspects of sexuality aimed at equipping children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that empower them to realise their sexual and reproductive health well-being and rights; develop healthy interpersonal relationships; reflect on the impact of their choices on self and societal well-being; and secure and protect their rights throughout their lives.
Despite the ongoing opposition to CSE, some strides have been made in the delivery of the CSE mandate in some countries. As we speak, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are implementing two UNESCO projects, the O3 and O3 PLUS concurrently. The O3 programme supports 33 countries to work towards a Sub-Saharan Africa. On the other hand countries such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia and Kenya are implementing the O3PLUS which builds on the current O3 programme to focus on young people in higher and tertiary education institutions in Kenya in these four countries.
While progress and significant strides have been made around CSE, more still needs to be done to get political buy in so as to ensure continuity of the CSE project even in the absence of donors. In majority of ESA countries, CSE is being financed and funded and implemented by donor organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations. The little or lack of political will to support the CSE programme in some countries will likely retard growth on the continent as learners will continue experiencing harmful practices and challenges that have bedeviling the continent for decades.
The ESA region in Africa is still experiencing high a incidence of new HIV infections in young adolescent girls, high Early Unintended Pregnancies (EUPs), early child marriages, school drop outs amongst a host of other issues. To address this, political will needs to be at the core of planning and organizations implementing CSE need be in constant touch with developments in the political circles.
Comprehensive sexuality education is a long way from being institutionalized in most low- and middle-income countries where the HIV epidemic poses a disproportionate burden. Even in countries with the highest HIV rates, there are relatively few examples of scaled-up, sustainable programmes within educational curricula. Existing generations of schoolchildren are not receiving the information they need for their healthy development and unless things change, future cohorts of children will be similarly disadvantaged.
According to the Southern Africa AIDS Dissemination Service (SAFAIDS), despite the significant strides made around CSE, there are still noticeable and significant gaps and several barriers to realization of the ESA Commitment targets (e.g. policy and law review, strengthening policy implementation & protection systems, quality SRH service delivery & access).
Some progress have been registered in Zimbabwe in terms implementing the CSE programme. The CSE in Zimbabwe is being delivered to learners under the Guidance and Counseling life skills education subject. In terms of teacher training, a lot has also happened in Zimbabwe. To date teachers in Zimbabwe have been received training through online CSE online courses as well as face to face-face especially before COVOD-19.
Even though Zimbabwe has made such tremendous progress, there is need for government to pull financial resources and also budget for CSE effectively. Coverage alone is not a sufficient measure of scaling-up CSE. The quality of programmes offered is critical if young people are to gain the knowledge they need, as well as the skills and values necessary to prevent HIV and lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
To ensure quality programming in Zimbabwe, government commitment to funding is critical to its potential for scaling up sexuality education. It is important to understand the government budgeting processes so as to argue for integration of CSE. A number of CSE implementers in Zimbabwe are lamenting the lack of an earmarked budget for sexuality education and have cautioned that over reliance on donors could derail the CSE project.
One of the biggest mistakes implementers of CSE could make is assuming that they can apply a blanket approach to implementing the CSE in schools across Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is not a homogeneous group and thus requires different strategies and different financial and human resources to implement CSE programs. Zimbabwe is in the process of implementing a Devolution strategy in its quest to attain an upper middle income economy status by 2030. Under devolution, citizens are involved in setting the development agenda in their communities.
CSE implementers can ride on this wave in order to effectively plan and also come up with the actual cost of the CSE. Almost every district and province in Zimbabwe has existing structures and programmes that touch on issues relating to sexuality education and therefore it is important to assess and build on these. It is from these grassroots structures that CSE implementers can know how many teachers need to be trained, what resources are needed per each and every district etc. This will also help treasury to allocate resources towards CSE from an informed perspective.
Successful implementation of devolution is premised on adequate financial resources. Zimbabwe’s devolution is largely driven and premised on sourcing domestic financial resources to ensure sustainability of projects outside the confines on NGOs timelines. Even though there are still issues around late disbursement of funds to districts, in 2019, budget of US$310 million (5.1 %) was allocated for devolution which was revised to ZWL$703 million (6.5%) in the 2019 Mid-Year Budget and Review and Supplementary Budget. In the 2020 National Budget, ZWL$ 2.9 billion (5.1%) was provided to cater for the lower tiers of government.
Through the devolution programme, it is possible to conduct in district surveys and come up with an estimated number of in school learners and those out of school young people who may be in need to services. The coverage/enrolment at different levels of education and transition between levels is important to understand. In districts with a large out-of-school population, school-based sexuality education is likely to be less effective as this is now a hard to reach group.
Through assessing the public health situation of each and every district, it may help in planning and knowing the Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) needs of adolescents as well as the HIV diseases burden at district level. Investing in school-based sexuality education is arguably most important in high HIV-prevalence settings as well as places where risky sexual behavior in rampart. Mining communities, rural communities and farming communities present a very fertile environment for new HIV infections in adolescents in Zimbabwe.