Namibia ditches sex education
Amidst escalating teenage pregnancy in Namibia, the country has decided to pull out of the comprehensive sexuality education programme (CSE) next year.But students say that they have not been consulted and they will defend CSE because it is making a difference to young people’s lives.Minister of International relations Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah is behind the move to prevent CSE in schools. She wrote a letter to education minister Anna Nghipondoka on 15 June 2020, advising her not to renew the country’s commitment to the East and Southern Africa (ESA) ministerial commitment on CSE.
Namibian Sun is in possession of the letter, in which Nandi-Ndaitwah stated that: “The ministry is aware of the controversy surrounding CSE around the world and its linkage to the universal promotion of abortion, the drive to legalise homosexuality and the sexualisation of children.”
Nandi-Ndaitwah added that, “while there may be positive aspects in the CSE programme, it is advisable that Namibia come up with an indigenous programme to address teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, gender-based violence etc” and “steer away from engaging in programmes that border on elements that may be considered illegal.” This week, the minister confirmed to Namibian Sun that she had written the letter and promised to explain her reasons, and respond to whether she had been influenced by a US right-wing organisation, Family Watch International, which has been organising against CSE in the SADC region.
Nanso president Simon Taapopi said the removal of CSE from the school curriculum would be highly irresponsible and ignorant of the role it plays in forming attitudes, beliefs and values about identity amongst young people.
In a statement which Taapopi shared with Namibian Sun on Thursday, the organisation argued that since the integration of CSE in schools they have seen a relative decrease in the number of teenage pregnancies, early unintended pregnancies, STIs and STDs, especially in regions where these are most prevalent. “At the end of the day this remains as clear evidence of its effectiveness and level of impact in the reduction of these statistics,” the statement read. Nanso further stated that they had various engagements with civil society organisations such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on how they could collectively improve CSE training in schools by training teachers.
Meanwhile, Luciano Kambala, secretary-general of the African Youth & Adolescents Network (AfriYAN) and an executive member of the Namibia National Students’ Organisation, says that the attack on CSE is “worrisome” at a time “when there are high rates of GBV and rape in the country.” He said civil society organisations had been called to a recent meeting by the Namibian education department where they were told that Nandi-Ndaitwah was concerned about references to homosexuality in CSE. “There has been no consultation about the review of CSE,” added Kambala.
“Some opponents say parents must take up the responsibility for talking to their children about sex but research shows that young people don’t want this. It is taboo to speak to your parents about sex. The education ministry executive director, Sanet Steenkamp, defended the country’s decision, saying that CSE is not a subject or programme in Namibian schools. “CSE refers to detailed learning content, broad and in-depth knowledge of aspects of reproductive health as sexual reproductive health and wellbeing in humans,” said Steenkamp. Steenkamp said the knowledge is integrated in an age-appropriate manner, with Life Skills as a subject offered from Grade 4 to Grade 12.
“This (the current) curriculum is approved by the relevant authorities and is not changed,” said Steenkamp. “The so-called free-standing subject or subject content of CSE is not offered as part of the curriculum in Namibia. Aspects of morality and belief systems are covered in religious and oral education which form equally integral part of the holistic education we offer.”
Teach them while young
The Society for Family Health will be opening an adolescent and youth health centre in Ondangwa in the Oshana Region this year, which has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. SFH has been a champion of CSE and a champion of efforts against GBV.
Libertine Shiyaleni (22), an SFH advisory board member, said she does not support the withdrawal of CSE from schools as it has educated young people on their rights to bodily autonomy, including how to say no to sexual advances.
“Most importantly, the less privileged and vulnerable youth in rural areas have been alerted more on their rights and procedures to follow in case an individual is assaulted or raped,” said Shiyaleni.
“The constitution of Namibia provides for the right to dignity. Every individual’s right to dignity should therefore be respected and valued.”
UNAIDS executive director Winnie Byanyima says “CSE is an integral part of the right to education and to health. It is not optional. It is not negotiable”. “Especially in these times of the Covid-19 pandemic, ensuring comprehensive sexuality education is available to all adolescent girls, boys and young people is fundamental,” Byanyima told openDemocracy.
“Quality comprehensive sexuality education puts the power of knowledge for prevention directly in their hands—to prevent HIV, early pregnancy, the trauma of maternal deaths, and sexual and gender-based violence--and to know where to get timely support.”
Additional reporting by Kerry Cullinan, openDemocracy health editor.