Every young person will one day have life-changing decisions to make about their sexual and reproductive health. Yet research shows that the majority of adolescents lack the knowledge required to make those decisions responsibly, leaving them vulnerable to coercion, sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy.
Comprehensive sexuality education enables young people to make informed decisions about their sexuality and health. These programmes build life skills and increase responsible behaviors, and because they are based on human rights principles, they help advance human rights, gender equality and the empowerment of young people.
In Ghana, parents and teachers and to a large extent some policy makers have still not come to the realization that comprehensive sexuality education is worth giving attention to. Unfortunately many People often think we are starting right away to talk about sexual intercourse when we talk about sexuality education hence a lot of people often shy away from the topic. Sexuality is so much more than that. It’s also about self-image, developing your own identity, gender roles, and it’s about learning to express yourself, your wishes and your boundaries without any fear.
According to a UNFPA Ghana Millennium Development Goals Report (MDG) for 2015, unsafe abortions account for close to 65 percent of maternal deaths, the report further notes that as at 2008 Ghana recorded 32.8 percent of teenagers (15-19) who are sexually active and unmarried. Most alarming was the fact that only 27.7 percent of adolescent (15-19) had comprehensive knowledge on HIV whiles only 18.1 in 2014 had knowledge on HIV prevention methods.
These figures are indeed alarming and signify that more efforts need to be invested in the area of comprehensive sexuality education for young people.
It has long been recognized that those countries that have a more open and positive attitude toward sexuality have better sexual health outcomes. Cross-national comparisons show that, despite similar levels of sexual activity, adolescent pregnancy rates are consistently lower in many Western European countries than in other regions of the world. What Ghana can do differently?
At least one study has demonstrated that comprehensive sexuality education programs are potentially cost-effective as well. In 2010, UNESCO commissioned a study of the health impact and cost-effectiveness of school-based sexuality education in Estonia. Sexuality education in that country is included as a component of compulsory human studies courses for grades 5–7 and, importantly, is strongly linked to youth-friendly sexual health services in the community. According to the study, between 2001 and 2009, after the introduction of sexuality education in Estonia, there were significant improvements in adolescent sexual and reproductive health: Nearly 4,300 unintended pregnancies, 7,200 STIs and 2,000 HIV infections among adolescents aged 15–19 were averted.
As a country what prove do we need again to begin to integrate comprehensive sexuality education into our school system.
Cultural barriers have played a major role towards the low education on comprehensive sexuality education in Ghana. However, this calls for more innovative ways to addressing issues on comprehensive sexuality education especially at primary and secondary level of education.
One of such innovations is the need to advocate for a system that allows for flexibility in how comprehensive sexuality education is taught in schools. The education must address certain core principles – among them, sexual diversity and sexual assertiveness. That means encouraging respect for all sexual preferences and helping students develop skills to protect against sexual coercion, intimidation and abuse.
What each one should know is that Sexual development is a normal process that all young people experience, and they have the right to frank, trustworthy information on the subject. The earlier we begin to take the subject serious the better for us as a country.
Indeed contrary to what a lot of people think in Ghana, it is worth to know that no study of comprehensive programs to date has found evidence that providing young people with sexual and reproductive health information and education results will lead to increased sexual risk-taking.
Dzikunu Richard Mawutor
Young leader, Women deliver