: The Key to Guarantee Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
From Samuel Adadi Akapule
Ghanaians joined teachers around the world to commemorate World Teachers Day on the 5th of October, 2013. This was an occasion to appreciate the invaluable contribution of teachers to the development of the country. No nation develops without education, being mainstreamed into every facet of her development. As a matter of fact, give the people proper education and poverty, diseases, conflict and marginalization would live a distant far from them. Unfortunately the teacher remains an unrecognized hero and we therefore need national consciousness on the plight of the teacher by drawing sustainable schemes that would help improve the welfare of the teacher.
The Minister of Education, Professor Jane Nana Opoku-Agyeman rightly underscored the need for a review of the curricula of teachers during the celeberation. Also, the Minister of Health, Dr Kwaku Agyemang-Mensah , recently made a call for the introduction of family planning and contraceptive use in school syllabus at Ho during the 2013 Family Week Celebration . He expressed concern over the low patronage of contraceptives as family planning method and said this has resulted in increasing the spate of abortion and maternal death. These calls border on the lack of education, gender and reproductive health and rights. Sadly, many of these calls have been made with no concrete interventions taken.
Among some of the key stakeholders who have made similar calls on different platforms are the Civil Society Organizations working in the area of the promotion of Reproductive Health Care. They include the Northern Sector Awareness and Action Centre (NORSAAC), Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana (PPAG), SavSign, The Regional Advisory Information and Network Systems (RAINS) , the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC) and the Ghana Development Communities Association (GDCA).
The Executive Director of Child Rights International also condemned the high incidence of school dropouts of girls emanating from the spate of teenage pregnancies in schools. This is in separate dimension. Statistics available indicates that in the Bongo and the Builsa Zones of the Upper East Region as well the Cape Coast Municipality are worse off in terms of teenage pregnancies and abortions.
Changing the curricula to meet the exigencies of the moment, to reflect gender and reproductive health issues and to address the challenges women, children and the youth faces is a necessity and this is where the wisdom of the statements by the two Ministers is premised and should be acted upon with alacrity.
However, it must be pointed out that the root cause of these reoccurring and ever increasing phenomenons has not been addressed because discussing sexuality in homes and schools is considered sacrilegious; reinforcing the perfection that holding sexuality education and discussions with children makes them sexually active. Whereas there is no scientific research and evidence to back this perfection, it is still religiously and strongly adhered to.
Interacting with the writers on the subject matter , Mr Tia Abdul-Kabiru, the Education and Advocacy Officer of Northern Sector Awareness and Action Centre said his outfit in collaboration with other Non-Governmental Organizations including Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana , Regional Advisory Information and Network Systems , the Integrated Social Development Centre and the Ghana Development Communities Association over the years have been mounting a lot of programmes on Sexuality Reproductive Health for the youth , stressing that “We need to come to reality that abstaining from discussing and including sexuality education in schools curricula is only causing children and the adolescent devastating harm. Our silence has not stopped information communication technology from exposing children to sexuality more so on the negative aspect of it. Neither has it stopped children from becoming sexually active nor has it been able to reverse
the growing negative repercussion of teenage pregnancy that has bedeviled our country”
He cited for instance that about 77 school teenagers became pregnant in 2010 in the Brong Ahafo region; it increased to 111 in 2011 and further increased to 170 in 2013 and indicated that nationally, it is estimated that about 750,000 teenagers from 15 to 19 years become pregnant annually, pointing out that “the problem persists in every part of the country with reported cases in every region”.
There are enormous benefits in teaching children and the adolescent sexual issues and that is why we promote sexuality education. Firstly, we are confronted with teenage pregnancy causing school drop-out and abortion. This menace would be solved or better still reduced if sexuality education is introduced and teens taught the health implication of sex, teenage pregnancy, safe sex practices and sex related diseases. Again, HIV/AIDS is a global canker and Ghana is not spared in this. Sexuality education would help eliminate HIV/AIDS and help achieve MDGs 4 and 6. Sexuality education would also help promote reproductive health and rights of people and basic health management practices of adolescent enhanced. Sexuality education is therefore a catalyst to addressing several gender issues since women are the ones facing the challenges of sexual abuses, maternal deaths, and teenage pregnancies among others
The Ghana Education Act, 2008 (Act 778) calls for “…the establishment of an educational system intended to produce well balanced individuals with the requisite knowledge, skills, values, aptitudes and attitudes to become functional and productive citizens for the total development and the democratic advancement of the nation, for related matters”. This provision is consistent with global call to address special needs of adolescents and young people’s sexual and reproductive health through education, health and family welfare programs. Despite the global call to address the special needs of adolescents and young people’s sexual and reproductive health through education, health and family welfare programs, adolescences are still veiled in myths and misconceptions pertaining to their sexual health and sexuality in a developing country like Ghana.
Young people still do not have access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education in schools necessary to guide them to consciously decide when and with whom to become sexually active; to avoid nonconsensual sex, sexual violence, and abuse; to plan pregnancies and have access to safe abortion; to avoid acquiring or transmitting sexually transmitted infections and HIV and AIDS; to know when they need preventive and curative services; to go through pregnancy and childbirth safely; and to bear and rear healthy children.
According to the Education and Advocacy Officer of Northern Sector Awareness and Action Centre, the study of the country’s educational curricula showed that some bits of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights education are contained in Integrated Science, Social Studies, Citizenship Education and English Language. In these four subjects, four topics or Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights related issues such as Reproduction in Human; Infectious Diseases of Humans; Adolescent Reproductive Health; Citizenship and Human Right; Gender Relations; Domestic Violence and Conflict in Community; and Stigma and Discrimination are taught.
“It is regrettable to note that the content of these topics are very limited and some critical SRHR issues such as STIs and abortion are just mentioned in passing. Thus, this cannot be comprehensive SRHR education because, comprehensive sexuality education is a right based approach that seeks to equip young people with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that they need to determine and enjoy their sexuality - physically and emotionally, individually and in relationships as defined by International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). Available models such as HIV Alert School Model (ASM) developed by UNICEF Ghana, which provided content for teaching in schools can be described as somehow comprehensible considering the fact that, relevant themes in SRHR are taught in an integrated teaching plan by a teacher. The sexual right of the SRHR education is however lacking in this model as issues of sexual abuse, rape, forced sex, sexual harassment,
avenue for claiming sexual rights are not included in the ASM teacher manual”, Mr Abdul-Kabiru stated
There is therefore the urgent need for the Ghana Education Service to work through the Ministry of Education to integrate Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights education into the educational curriculum by forcing schools to include it into the school time tables as proposed by the Education and Advocacy Officer of Northern Sector Awareness and Action Centre and other major stakeholders. There is also the need for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights facilitation to be integrated in the training of teachers at the Teacher Training Colleges of Education.
In conclusion, there is therefore the absolute and urgent need for government to consider the harm caused by its silence on sexuality education as well as re-examine the causes and pervasive effects of teenage pregnancy, abortion and maternal death and undertake the necessary reforms in the Junior high school and Senior High Schools educational curricula. The time to act is now. We can no longer postpone sexuality education for children and adolescent when they are already facing the realities by their poor sexual knowledge and risky sexual behavior. Countries like Finland and Nigeria in viewing the significant of Comprehensive Sexuality Education on the development of the youth and adults inculcated Comprehensive Sexuality Education into their School Curriculum and this has worked perfectly for them. Ghana needs to take a cue from this to also enable her curb HIV/AIDS and to help fast rack its achievement of the Millennium Development Goals Also at
the just ended two day orientation workshop in Accra for Journalists organized by the Ghana Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Alliance of Young people in Ghana, a coalition of Ghanaian local NGOs under its “Access, Services and Knowledge (ASK) -Ghana Programme” made of diverse experiences and expertise working together to promote and complement governments at improving the sexual and reproductive health of young people equally stressed the need for the inclusion of Comprehensive Sexuality Education(CSE) into the School Curricula . That would help confront the reproductive health problems of young people so as the help curb problems such as teenage pregnancies, abortion , HIV/AIDS, maternal and infant mortality which is prevalent among school girls leading to high dropouts. The SRHR Alliance of Young people in Ghana include Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana, Hope for Future Generations (HFFG), Northern Sector
Awareness and Action Centre, Simli Aid, Presbyterian Health Services – North, Curious Minds and Theatre for a Change. Sexuality Education in Junior and Senior High Curricula is the Key to guarantee Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and must not be toyed with. The time to act is now.