Sex Ed 101: Learning lessons from Zambia

Feb 18th, 2021 | By | Category: Family Planning

By Joshua Mirondo, youth writer for Transition Earth.


[Editor’s note:  Access to reproductive health services and sex education is a priority for all countries. And it saves lives.  Some 214 million women in the developing world have an unmet need for family planning.  Meeting this need for family planning services would prevent 76,000 maternal deaths each year.  To bring contraceptive services to all women in the developing world who want it would cost $11.9 billion per year.  See more information at the Guttmacher Institute and read on for the view from Uganda and Zambia on the importance of quality sex education.]

Sexuality education aims to equip young people and adolescents with information, attitudes, and values that enable them to realize their health and well-being. However, it has been criticized by some people who believe that it degrades morals in society. In Uganda, the sexuality education framework (‘sex ed’) was launched in 2018 and was supposed to be implemented throughout the country; however, the program’s execution was halted by stakeholders, especially religious leaders. The truth is many young people are engaged in risky sexual acts which have resulted in teenage pregnancies and unsafe abortions. This has caused health complications and sometimes death among young people and adolescents. Availing information to youth is one of the best ways to mitigate this issue and it can be done through sexuality education. 

Fortunately, there are examples in other African countries to show how to have a successful sex ed program.  Zambia is one such nation.

As opposed to Uganda’s experience, the sexuality education framework in Zambia was rolled out and it is being implemented in Zambian primary and secondary schools. In 2019, research was carried out on how implementation of the framework was done as a way of benchmarking by countries that had not rolled it out. On 3rd December 2020, the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Alliance (SRHR Alliance Uganda) joined the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) Uganda Chapter for a meeting where the findings were disseminated. The research indicated that sex ed adoption was motivated by negative sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) outcomes of young people, such as rising cases of early and unintended pregnancies, prevalence rates of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), gender-based violence, and school dropouts due to early marriages, among other reasons. While the government of Uganda has made commitments to ensure there is SRHR for young people, however, there are still many challenges, such as launching the sexuality education framework. The research also indicated stakeholders have a huge role to support the government in execution of this framework.




Mr. Henry Semakula, from the Ministry of Education, who was part of the committee that drafted the Ugandan sexuality education framework, said that many schools are religious-based. These schools are valuable in implementing sexuality education. If these institutions support the idea, Mr. Semakula said, we will have a smooth running of the framework. He later encouraged participants to pay attention to Dr. Frederick Murunga Wekesah, a sex ed consultant, to find out what Uganda can benchmark on.

During his presentation, Dr. Wekesah, who championed this study, said that the framework was first executed separately. However, after a study by UNESCO, a lot of loopholes were discovered. After better integration into the curriculum, more achievements began to be realized. Sexuality education was then incorporated in all main subjects, which is cost-effective because the ministry is neither allocating additional funds to support implementation nor is it hiring extra staff. 

“Integrating sexuality education into the curriculum made it difficult for students to opt-out unless it was a standalone. It also made it easier for teachers to deliver age-appropriate content,” said Dr. Wekesah. To have it unified, teachers are therefore taught how to execute the framework with a directive from the Ministry of Health. 

The current COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the need for sexuality education, especially for young people. In Uganda there have been rising cases of teenage pregnancies and gender-based violence. This is because young people have limited access to sexual and reproductive health information, since most young people used to get it from school. Right now they are stuck at home with parents who still feel ashamed to talk about issues of sexuality, as they had left that role to teachers in school. 


Dr. Wekesah, who was part of the consultants that carried out the research

Despite the registered successes, Dr. Wekesah said that there are also challenges faced during execution of sexuality education in Zambia. He gave an example of biased teachers who choose to teach what they want and leave out aspects of sexuality education; students therefore end up missing out on essential topics.  There is also a perception of most African countries having low-quality education and since sex ed is embedded in the curriculum, it has a weak foundation. Zambia also has a framework that focuses on providing sexuality education outside of school. There are free walk-in beauty centers that have peer educators who use this opportunity to reach teach SRHR to those interested. Some institutions also established places where young people converge to play games and engage in activities such as gym, get training in skills like tailoring and dress making. A health worker and a trained counsellor are on site to provide sex ed information and SRH services to youth.

Can other countries learn a thing or two from Zambia?  It would seem so.

Joshua Mirondo is a digital marketer, blogger, photographer and volunteer at Reproductive Health Uganda.  

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