The timing has never been better to talk about sexuality education, when the President has committed to strengthening efforts to reduce HIV prevalence (Presidential Fast-Track Initiative); the government has committed to end child marriage and teenage pregnancy (National Strategy to End Child Marriage and Teenage pregnancy); and achieving gender equality in education (Gender in Education Sector Policy).
These government initiatives are aimed at improving the situation of young people in Uganda. Some of the challenges they face are, high teenage pregnancy at 25 per cent, average first sexual debut at 16 years, high rates of school dropouts for our girls in upper primary, secondary and tertiary institutions due to early pregnancies, which often lead to early or forced marriage.
They also face gender-based violence manifested through defilement, rape, sexual harassment and female genital mutilation. The level of new HIV infections among the young people is worrying. Young people’s contribution to Maternal Mortality is at 28 per cent.
We cannot underestimate the effect of the exposure to negative information and communication technologies, weakening family support system, inadequate knowledge, myths and misconceptions around sexual and reproductive health matters.
The high dependence on peers as sources of information, confusing messages during the transition from childhood to adulthood are major challenges young people face.
According to the National Sexuality Education Framework, sexuality education is a lifelong process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values about vital issues such as sexual development, reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, intimacy, body image and gender roles.
Sexuality education aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to realise their health, well-being and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others. Let us not confuse sexuality education and sex education. The framework does not include sex education.
The youthful population of Uganda with 78 per cent under 30 years, should not be left behind if we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, Uganda’s Vision 2040, and Africa Union’s Agenda 2063.
Responding to some of the challenges the youth face, Sustainable Development Goals propose interventions on sexuality education, under Goal 3 on ensuring healthy lives and promotion of well-being for all ages and Goal 4 on ensuring inclusive quality education and promotion of lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Now is the time to come out and address some of the stumbling blocks to the middle-income status that Uganda plans to achieve. The big youth population can be turned into an asset for development if we remove the sexual and reproductive health barriers that stand in their way.
Sexuality education has been proven to have positive effects, including providing information that arms young people with knowledge and skills to make informed decisions like delaying sexual activity, staying in school, seeking health services to mention a few.
Sexuality education has been around in the African setting for a long time. Parents, aunties, uncles, elder sisters and brothers would groom young people. There are still good examples today of nurturing young people through positive cultural practices, which instill cultural values and morals in young people so that they can become responsible citizens making informed choices about their lives. Today, considering the effects of modernisation, the Sexuality Education Framework, is necessary to bridge the gap of the weakening family support systems.
It is commendable that the government through Ministry of Education and Sports, has formulated a framework on sexuality education that is age appropriate, culturally and religious sensitive. The UN System in Uganda appreciates the First Lady Janet Museveni for launching the Sexuality Education Framework.
It is important to note that no single organisation or entity can deliver on sexuality education. It requires a multi-sectoral approach owing to the comparative advantage of the various government ministries, communities, youth, private sector, civil society organisations, cultural and religious institutions among other different actors.
My hope is that the implementation plan for the National Sexuality Education Framework will take care of the various categories of young people, including those in-school, out-of-school, in the remotest areas, people with disabilities, young people living with HIV/Aids, among others. Furthermore, all sectors should participate and engage to institutionalise its implementation and make it sustainable.
The United Nations is here to support the government and not to impose anything not accepted by the country. The United Nations Development Assistance Framework 2016-2020 is aligned to the second National Development Plan.
Mr Sibenaler is the Acting UN Resident Coordinator and UNFPA Representative.