The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) held its sixty eight session in Geneva last year in November and Kenya was making her eight periodic report showing progress made since her last review. The Country was positively appraised for significant progress in the legislative arena including the establishment of the legal aid act, protection against domestic violence Act (2015) victim protection Act (2013) and the prohibition of female genital mutilation Act 2011 among a host of other laws passed.
However, Kenya was faulted among other things for dragging its feet in delivering age appropriate and comprehensive education on sexual reproductive health and rights – without which the fight against STIs/HIV/AIDS and other adverse outcomes including teenage pregnancy and unsafe abortion remain largely hampered. This hesitation on the part of the Kenya government is surprising especially considering that in 2013, Kenya signed a ministerial declaration committing to provide comprehensive rights-based Sexuality education to her school going children across the country.
However, this hesitation should be understood against several factors. Religious opposition and continued negative media reporting have adversely portrayed sexual education as a foreign intrusion aimed at destroying the African socio- cultural fabric. Ideas in global declarations and materials intended to promote sexuality education are largely seen to originate and be driven from outside the African cultural context.
Controversy on nomenclature and terminology remains persistent. For many, sexuality education remains equated to sex and sex instruction and by extension tied to sexual diversity and unsafe abortion. The broader concepts of friendship, relationships, sexual behavior, gender dynamics, and safety are all blurred and lost in a dishonest conversation that projects sexuality from the narrow prism of bad manners and un-African. Worse still, controversy and debate continues to rage on the use of the term ‘comprehensive’ with regard to sexuality education and what it means and entails.
Previous and ongoing attempts to provide any form of basic information on sexuality have been anchored in fear-based or negative frames that relate sexuality with disease and problems rather happiness, joy and good health. From the offset, children especially girls are warned not to ‘mix with boys’ because they ‘will conceive’ and that having ‘relations or ‘affairs’ with boys will result in diseases including HIV/AIDS. The positive constructs around meaningful healthy respectful relations are completely downplayed and ultimately dismissed.
Kenya can reconstruct this conversation and provide objective, non-fear based age-appropriate sexuality education anchored on the following considerations:
Involve experts in human sexuality and behavior change the development of national curricula, Assess and respond to the reproductive health needs and behaviors of adolescents and youth noting that more than a third of 15–19-year-old adolescents have already had sex. Government should further design activities that are sensitive to community values and consistent with available resources and Provide scientifically accurate information about the risks of having unprotected sexual intercourse and the effectiveness of different methods of protection.
The concerns that sexuality education leads to early sex, it’s against our religion and our culture and that it deprives children of their innocence must continuously be addressed to build consensus and benefit from the immense opportunities presented though CSE. Broadly we all need to acknowledge that certain behaviors are generally seen as acceptable and desirable while others are considered unacceptable. This does not mean that these behaviors do not occur in society.
The ongoing discourse on The Committee on the elimination of discrimination against women and its requirement for the delivery of CSE in Kenya provides yet another impetus for delivery of CSE once and for all to the Kenyan children for a better and sustainable future.
Albert Obbuyi, Executive Director
Centre for the study of Adolescence