BY: Mpofu Sthandile.
Insights from the World Population Review indicate that over 13 million children are born to women who are under 20 years old. Disturbingly, more than 90% of these births (about 12 million) occur in developing countries, with African countries topping the list.
To address high rates of teenage pregnancies in Africa, UNICEF has advised that nations invest in comprehensive sexual education, prioritize girls’ education, conduct community sensitization, promote health education, and ensure sufficient medical infrastructure.
With this as a backdrop, Ibis Reproductive Health, a leading health and reproductive rights international non-profit organisation, announced a ground-breaking new partnership with the AMAZE initiative. AMAZE.org, an initiative implemented by Advocates for Youth (AYF), which collaborates with global organisations and harnesses the power of digital media to provide free and age-appropriate sexual education that is medically accurate, affirming, and candid to adolescents and youth, with content available in over 40 languages.
Relevance and Inclusivity
Darcy Weaver, Associate Director for AMAZE International at Advocates for Youth, explained that through such a collaboration partners can adapt the existing library of animated videos to make them more culturally relevant and give them context. In addition, AMAZE provides resources for educators, including toolkits, discussion guides and information to facilitate engagement.
Shullami Mbola, Sexual and Reproductive Health advocate said AMAZE also uniquely addresses the dangers and challenges differently-abled women and girls face, adding that, “It’s a platform that advocates for specific solutions that do not further marginalize people with disabilities, but rather emphasizes the solutions. It’s a vehicle that can eliminate physical and social barriers and its ability to be adapted and tailored makes it well placed to address localized issues such as that of child marriage.”
Nthabiseng Mogashoa – South Africa Mmoho campaign Steer Committee member, SRH advocate and radio host emphasised the importance of reaching youth with crucial information, saying that if young people are not equipped with the right information they experiment on their own to their detriment. “AMAZE’s tools allow us to reach the grassroots and educate young people in a safe space. However we need all stakeholders – parents, peers and educators to get on the same page and share accurate, information.”
The importance of Comprehensive Sexuality Education in mainstream education
With this new partnership, AMAZE Africa aims to raise awareness of the significance of sexuality education and reproductive health and rights care for teenagers and to help break down barriers that prevent young people from getting these services across Sub-Saharan Africa.
Tshegofatso Bessenaar, Director of Southern Africa Programmes at Ibis Reproductive Health pointed out that there is often backlash around comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), based on an assumption that it’s about teaching young people sex. She said “Through this partnership we aim to empower and motivate teens to have information that is going to inform how they make decisions about their bodies and reproductive health, the kind of relationship that they’re going to have, and have total wellbeing in terms of everything else, beyond their sexuality.”
Patricia Najjita, Communications Strategist at SRHR Alliance Uganda, emphasized that at a policy level, acceptance of CSE in Uganda is tough and at times volatile. According to her, certain topics such as menstrual health are more permissible, explaining that “Coupled with inaccurate perceptions about adjacent issues such as gender and promiscuity, we face an uphill battle. Our approach is to educate where we can and count our wins. However, we continue to push to expand the scope of what is considered appropriate.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Ijeoma Egwuatu, Human Rights Activist, SRHR Advocate, Data, Innovation and Communications Director at GIWYN, who said that in Nigeria, educators and decision makers don’t focus on sexual education despite it being in the curriculum. She said, “AMAZE content gives us the entry point to talk about STIs, abortions and other issues which are difficult to broach due to Religious and moral norms.”
Helena Nangombe, Founder of Young Women Empowerment Network (YWEN) and a community expert who works with adolescent girls and young women on HIV and SRHR related matters in Namibia, says not making comprehensive sexuality education a priority from the top, exposes girls to HIV, gender-based violence and teen pregnancy. “Lack of education and awareness continues putting adolescent girls at risk.”
Structural challenges such as digital access on the continent, online censorship regarding CSE content and ignorance coupled with resistance from key stakeholders such as law enforcement, traditional leadership and other gatekeepers are constant barriers.
Ijeoma said despite the challenges of digital inclusion, partners on the ground are finding creative ways to overcome these barriers, for instance, downloading content and broadcasting it in places such as youth centres where young people are exposed to valuable information in safe spaces. “By doing this, we ensure that they are not digitally impeded and left behind,” she said.
Darcy said on a global level, AMAZE has a focus on creating content that is tailored to the social media landscape, and when it comes to online censorship, it’s important to work with creators who possess the necessary knowledge and expertise. “It’s also essential to engage in broader discussions about issues and ensure that accurate and safe information is not removed for violations, including potential removal of certain titles or keywords present in titles and descriptions.”
She added that despite the challenges, by and large norms are shifting toward the positive and explained that, “there is a growing recognition that comprehensive sexual education protects children and helps us combat violence, abuse and build more inclusive societies.”
The AMAZE and Ibis partnership aims to advance comprehensive sexuality education in sub-Saharan Africa the anticipated impact of the collaboration includes:
- Providing accurate and accessible information about sexuality information to teens and adolescents
- Ensuring that young people have the tools and resources they need to make informed decisions about their sexual health, and build healthy and respectful relationships with their bodies from an early age
- Promoting healthy sexual behaviour, reducing the incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and fostering gender equality in sub-Saharan Africa
- Advocacy efforts to expand access to reproductive health care, including contraception, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, and abortion services
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