The ban on comprehensive sex education in Uganda’s schools needs challenging. That Uganda has a ministry of Ethics and Integrity that is entirely engrossed with sexual morality but does not support sexual health education in school is shameful. Sexual health needs to be framed and presented as a human rights to health in line with various international instruments incorporating a right to health. This is also consistent directly with requirements of Sustainable Development Goals 3, 4, and 5.
In the last couple of years, Uganda has enacted some of the most ridiculous laws signifying a firm presence of the State in the private lives of citizens. Many conservative as well as liberal societies have long tended to limit the extent to which the State can regulate individual private space. The pursuit of individual liberty, human rights, and social order becomes relevant in the global neoliberal milieu with minimal state interference.
Laws that regulate sex, sexuality and sexual conducts in any society tends to be repressive to women and minorities. This reinforces a gender bias, where women are the object of moral agents, while the men, are left to their own vices and unconstrained. Such laws have limited the full and equal participation of women in the labour market, public administration and other realms of decision-making.
Nonetheless, ‘Lokodoism’ is in full control over our society with this notion that the State can police, restrict and control women’s public and private appearances. Ridiculous laws such as anti-miniskirt laws, or the full time obsession with brothels or homosexuality are indicators of how the State is in private spheres.
It is the culture that drives hostility in regard to women’s liberty, and to sexual health education thereby limiting the natural potential of developing a societal self-regulating mechanism in line with its normative values.
The strong presence of the State presupposes that sex and sexuality as a concept are aggregated within a homogeneous cultural framework across the country. This is far from the truth as Uganda has diverse cultures with equally very diverse sexual practices and belief systems about sex, sexuality, motherhood, safe sex, marriage, and so forth.
World over, schools operate a Sexual Health Education (SHE) in their high schools for pre-adolescent, adolescents and youths. This helps young people to become competent in decision-making on sex-related matters and handle personal growth and development through puberty with dignity. For us in Uganda, SHE is critical for the fight against HIV/Aids, healthy reproductive health, and for staving off early and unwanted pregnancies. In most sub-Sahara Africa where sex matters remains a taboo, there is an expectation that parents initiate sex education to their children. None of that happens. Some cultures consign such duties to aunties and uncles. With changes in family structures, geographies and economics, families hardly interact. This is where the school setting becomes a prime place for a progressive comprehensive sexual health education. Otherwise, children are left to the vagaries of social/ electronic and mainstream media where they access alien cultural contents that are perverted, commercialised and exciting forms of sexual portrayals, symbolic imagery, lurid acts, etc. Moreover, alien cultures of sex and sexuality that confront our children are associated with substance abuse, drugs, alcohol, weed, street drugs etc, most of which are already on our streets.
There is absolute need for continued SHE in our schools. The Gender minister, Ms Janat Mukwaya, was ill advised into suspending the programme when she could have called for a review. An impact evaluation should have sufficed. This article recommends a multipronged approach involving various line ministries; Education, Ethics, Health as well as cultural institutions and faith-based organisations to formulate a comprehensive SHE in our schools. This would ensure that the content of the comprehensive sex education conforms to, is relevant and consistent with a national agenda such as National Development Plan.
With the advent of HIV medication that promises an HIV free generation, early sex education became a societal imperative; a tool for youths, especially females, to nurture ability to make informed sex-related decision and experience sexual health as young people. Our major concerns are reverting and preventing new HIV incidences. Studies show that female youths are extremely vulnerable and at higher risk of contracting HIV/Aids and other STIs/STDs before turning 24 years.
Sexual health education is just one aspect of health spending; the State must guarantee wide ranging social safety measures through social policies on poverty reduction, income equality, legal and human rights including safeguarding equal rights to health resources for youths.