Africa’s young people particularly adolescent girls and young women continue to face a disproportionate high risk of HIV infection. Three out of four new HIV infections among 15-19 year-olds are among young women, and seven out of ten young women do not have comprehensive knowledge about HIV.
To this end, Director General of UNESCO, Ms Audrey Azoulay said Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is the panacea to addressing young people’s education and health needs.
She noted that comprehensive sexuality education, in addition to teaching young people how to prevent HIV and promoting the importance of knowing one’s status through HIV testing, also helps young people develop important life skills and positive health-seeking behaviour.
Ms Azoulay said this at a joint ceremony in Accra between Ghana and UNESCO, and attended by four other ministers from the sub-sahara African countries to launch “Our Lives, Our Rights, Our Future (O3)” program to boost comprehensive sexuality education in Ghana and beyond.
According to her, beyond the physical risks, for many young women, early and unintended pregnancy also leads to emotional trauma, early marriage, social stigma and the end of their educational opportunities.
She noted that despite what some may say, there is irrefutable evidence that CSE leads to positive outcomes, including delaying the start of sexual intercourse, decreasing the number of sexual partners, and increasing the use of condoms and contraception.
Ms Azoulay stressed that political commitment is a crucial element towards the goal of meaningful change in the lives of young people, and the future of our countries.
“By coming together with a common objective in sight, and bridging the silos between the health and education sectors, over 10 million young people in Eastern and Southern Africa were reached by 2016 with better quality sexuality education and access to youth-friendly services. This achievement was because of the strong political leadership and coordination of ministries of education, and health. By 2022, through the generous support of donors including Sweden and Ireland, together, we will triple our efforts and reach over 32 million across the entire sub-Saharan Africa region,” she emphasised.
Minister of Education Hon. Matthew Opoku Prempeh stated that the changing societal context, characterized by the free flow of information, media pluralism and social media has necessitated the need for our education systems to provide accurate information on sexuality education.
He said despite efforts in the six various countries including Ghana, there is more crucial work to be done in order to ensure that adolescents and youth learn in a safer environment that will contribute to quality and better educational outcomes.
According to him, there are still issues of HIV and AIDS, teenage pregnancies, gender- based violence and child marriages with devastating impact on educational outcomes.
“The youth are looking up to us and that is why I am excited about the O3 Programme generally and in particular the Programme Acceleration Project involving six countries including Ghana from 2018-2022. I believe that this gives us an extraordinary opportunity to not only deepen the scope of existing activities but also attain full-scale implementation of CSE in our respective countries,” the sector minister added.
According Matthew Opoku Prempeh, the O3 programme will support the delivery of good comprehensive sexuality education that empowers adolescents and young people with the ultimate goal of steady reduction in new HIV infections, early and unintended pregnancies, gender-based violence and child marriages.
“Therefore, Colleague Ministers, let us make a commitment to expand and strengthen efforts to develop Comprehensive Sexuality Education that will empower our youth to play a part in protecting themselves and developing a better society the world over and in Africa in particular,” he emphasised.
Prof. Kwasi Opoku-Amankwa, the Director-General of Ghana Education Service (GES) intimated that many young people today are deprived of adequate access to the very knowledge which would secure them better health and a brighter future.
This, according to him, stems from long standing socio-cultural prejudices against sexuality education.
He noted that the average young person is virtually kept in the dark on his/her sexuality for the fear that education on the CSE would predispose him/her to negative sexual behaviours.
On the contrary, Prof. Kwasi said literature is replete with evidence of the benefits of sexuality education, which have been found to include, but not limited to; delayed sexual debut, reduction in unintended pregnancies, improved negotiation skills especially among teenage girls, improved self-esteem and assertiveness, reduction in sexual partners and increased contraception among sexually active teenage girls and boys.
He posited that the school setting provides an important access point for interventions on comprehensive sexuality education and reproductive health.
The GES Boss emphasised that Ghana with support from UNFPA developed the Comprehensive Sexuality and Reproductive Health Education (CSRHE) guidelines.
According to him, the purpose of these guidelines is to help teachers and other stakeholders in the community to provide appropriate training and support for young people.
“Essentially the guidelines are aimed at providing young people with accurate and reliable information on reproductive health and values including respect for self and others,” Prof. Kwasi stated.
He stressed that while these and other CSE and Youth-Friendly Sexual and Reproductive Health Services programmes in collaboration with the Ministry of Health / Ghana Health Service are encouraging, countries must not also lose sight of significant challenges and gaps in CSE that require urgent attention.
“For Example, the challenge of refresher training of teachers on CSE and effective monitoring of CSE issues,” Prof. Kwasi intimated.