KAMPALA — In 2016, the Ministry of Gender announced the verdict to ban all forms of comprehensive sexuality education in Uganda. This decision was formed by lawmakers who worried that the values, practices and behaviors taught by comprehensive sexuality education go against Ugandan beliefs, customs and aspirations. The minister, Janet Mukwaya, said that teaching sexual education was weakening national and moral values.
The United Nations Population Fund defines comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) as a “rights-based and gender-focused approached to sexuality education” that includes “accurate information about human development, anatomy and reproductive health, as well as information about contraception, childbirth and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.”
CSE gives adolescents guidance and knowledge to safeguard the inevitable: growing up and starting relationships. It does not cause earlier or riskier sexual activity. In fact, CSE reduces rates of risky behavior by, for example, encouraging adolescents to use condoms and contraception and decreasing misinformation spread by peers.
CSE is also important for addressing education opportunity and gender equality. Lack of comprehensive sexuality education can lead to increases in unplanned pregnancies and dropout rates of young and expectant mothers.
Additionally, these programs are cost-effective and can improve spending on sexual and reproductive health. Countries and hospitals save money when rates of STIs, HIV infections and unintended pregnancies are reduced.
This access to accurate knowledge and comprehensive sexuality education in Uganda is critical in a country with one of the highest fertility rates in sub-Saharan Africa. In Uganda, only 44 percent of unmarried women use modern contraception, and 43 percent of sexually active unmarried women have an unmet need for contraception. About 25 percent of adolescent girls (ages 15 to 19) become pregnant. These rates, in turn, affect maternal mortality rates, education opportunity as well as female and household economic capability.
The Ministry’s ban on CSE has been challenged by organizations, countries and Ugandan youth and families. Following the ban, Henk Jan Baker, the Netherlands ambassador to Uganda, formally condemned the decision and attended an intergenerational dialogue organized by Reaching a Hand Uganda (RAHU), a youth-run nonprofit organization that emphasizes sexual health and rights. This dialogue attracted more than 3,000 youth who were concerned about their and future generations’ sexual health and wellbeing.
Maj Rubaramira Ruranga, a board member of the Uganda AIDS Commission, voiced concern about the ban’s effects on the country’s fight against HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and early pregnancy.
Peninah Tomusange, a medical consultant at the United Nations Population Fund, said that the ban on comprehensive sexuality education in Uganda would affect sustainable development goals and potential achievement by 2030, adding that adolescents risk getting sick because of a lack of information on good health.
The Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development sued the Ministry of Education in January of this year for its delayed issuing of a new CSE policy.
CSE helps adolescents to explore positive values regarding their sexual and reproductive health and changing bodies. With continued pressure, it is hoped that the Ugandan government will come to see the value in educating its young people on some of their most important decisions.
– Francesca Montalto