Sex education ban in schools a blow to sexual reproductive health in Uganda

by Patience Kwiyo

Image source: NHS Cumbria

Image source: NHS Cumbria

I had a great childhood. I was never the kid hiding in the closet, wishing and praying that when I opened my eyes, I would be thirty and living it up in the big city with a great job and a good life.

I was perfectly content remaining a child forever. So when my metamorphosis into womanhood begun, heralded by the painful process of breast development at age nine, I was bewildered and sad.

Sad because I didn’t want to grow up; bewildered because, while I knew that this was how people became adults, it was a personal experience and I still needed someone to explain and reassure me about what was happening to my body.

Ideally, this should have been my parents’ job, but for many African parents whose approach to sex education is ignoring the topic – and when it get’s beyond the point of no talking; giving a vague warning about how boys are dangerous, this was a tall order.

In fact, it wasn’t until a year later, in my P.5 science class, that I finally learnt what was and would be happening to me.

The next few years were marked by the shifting, stretching and displacing of the body into a new normal that which extended beyond the physical, having an emotional and psychological toll on me.

Did the little knowledge I had about sexual reproductive health make my adolescence any less strange, scary and tumultuous? No, but knowing what was happening, and knowing it was normal and okay was important.

Having said that, that information wouldn’t have saved me from much, had I been the kind of adventurous teen. It was helpful but it barely covered anything beyond the physical part of adolescence.

Image source: Trinity Hall JCR

Image source: Trinity Hall JCR

Activists have been advocating a more holistic and comprehensive approach to sex education that covers the psychological and emotional aspects of adolescence, as well as a more open dialogue about sexual reproductive health as a way of helping young people make more informed decisions.

And for a while it seemed like they were making headway, until this year when these efforts received the perhaps the biggest blow yet. The Ministry of Gender tabled a shocking motion to ban comprehensive sexual education in schools.

The reason for the ban? The discovery of sexual reproductive health books in 100 schools that included the full breadth of sexual orientation and a non-negative portrayal of masturbation, that sent a panic among parents and the parliament.

Law makers immediately concluded that kids were being taught homosexuality in schools and that the reason for high teenage pregnancy rates was because sex education was stripping young Ugandans of morality. Because in Uganda, the only kind of immorality that truly matters is hypocritical concern about sex.

A few weeks later, the motion was passed. It’s disturbing to know that given Uganda’s history with high defilement rates, teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS, we would willingly let young people go through adolescence without a comprehensive form of guidance.

Image source: Sexual Health West Sussex

Image source: Sexual Health West Sussex

You would expect the president, who has been at the helm of the most successful AIDS prevention campaign, and knows how important the role of sex education in schools has been in this, would come out to challenge the ban. Instead, his reaction was very disappointing. Apparently, since his children turned out okay with the simple advice to ‘do everything at the right time’, it should be able to work for everyone else.

While the Ministry of Gender was right about regulating sex education for young young people depending on age, taking out important parts of the syllabus or completely banning sex education is not a solution.

As activists and stakeholders who are passionate about young people’s rights to sex education and their future, we can only hope and continue to fight until our voices get too loud for the country’s law maker’s to ignore.

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