Comprehensive Sex Education manual: What does it really say?

Comprehensive Sex Education manual: What does it really say?

Desie Heita

Windhoek – Much noise has been made about the inclusion of the Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE) manual of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in the school curriculum both at primary and secondary school level.

Religious leaders and several teachers are concerned that the graphic content learners will be exposed to in the CSE course, as part of the Life Skills subject, would further encourage learners to engage in sex and inappropriate sexual contact.

Several of the clergy have objected that the syllabus even expounds on topics such as anal sex and same-sex relationships, but proponents of the programme say that more controversial topics only come up in later years, as from Grade 7.

However, the Minister of Education, Arts and Culture, Katrina Hanse-Himarwa, has defended the CSE course saying nowadays children are exposed to all sorts of sexual content, more so than ever before.

But what is contained in the manual. The manual does provide for the teaching of sexual identity, where it dwells on the “understanding of who we are”.

“This includes our inner sense of who we are in terms of gender, which sometimes matches our body parts and sometimes does not,” it says before going on to explain the “interlocking pieces” that affect how each person sees him or herself and the feelings of attraction to others. The pieces start with ‘biological sex’, of identifying the child as a boy or girl based on their genitalia, and the children born with or having diverse genitalia, and, in most cases, will not be able to reproduce or cause a pregnancy.

“This is called being ‘intersex’ or having diverse sex differences (DSD). The old term for this is called being ‘hermaphrodite.’”

The other piece is the ‘gender identity’, on how at times the person would have inner feelings that are different to what their physical body tells them. Cases where a person’s body and their inner sense of who they are will not match. “This is called being transgender,” says the manual.

The other piece is ‘gender role’, which is how society expects each person to act, behave, dress in a specific manner that is reserved for that specific gender. The manual stresses that “both young men and women need help sorting out how perceptions about gender roles affect whether they feel encouraged or discouraged in their choices about relationships, leisure activities, education, and career”. It also deals with stereotypical perception about people according to their gender, of the gender bias that women are less intelligent than men, are not analytical, and that men cannot raise children without the help of women and men are not sensitive.

Then there is the piece on ‘sexual orientation’, which is defined thus: “A person’s sexual orientation has to do with the gender or genders of people to whom they are attracted, physically and romantically. This is an important definition because most people think that sexual orientation has to do only with who they have sex with. But sexual orientation also has to do with who people have the capacity to fall in love with. Adolescents can know what their sexual orientation is without having had their first sexual experience.”

The manual goes on to identify heterosexual, or straight people, gays, lesbians, bisexual, and pansexual sexual orientation.

However, the manual does also have this caveat: “Different countries, ethnic groups and religious communities will have different laws, attitude, values and beliefs in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, ranging from complete open, affirming and accepting to virulent opposition that results in serious human rights violation, physical harm and even death.”

Overall, at a glance the manual is systematic and thematic in its approach to sex education, easing both the teacher and the learner into the subject. Throughout the manual, the teaching materials encourage the teacher to be at ease when teaching children about sex, and identifying sexual organs and their functions. Unlike previous subjects on reproductive health, the manual touches, at times in detail, and with the help of graphics of the body parts, on the down effect of entering into a sexual relationship without adequate information. It also attempts to teach children the difference between flirting, seduction, sexual harassment, rape and incest.

The very first section of the manual is dedicated to the training of teachers who would be giving sex education lessons to children. The manual encourages trainers, who would train teachers, to ensure that teachers not only acquaint themselves with the subject but also that they demonstrate a level of comfort when teaching learners about sex. After all, if the teachers are unable to express themselves clearly on a topic considered taboo in a room full of fellow teachers, how else are they going to be able to teach sex to children?

“The overall goal of [the training of teachers] is to increase the comfort, knowledge and skills relating to teaching their own students about sexuality,” states the manual. Sex education teachers are supposed to undergo that training for a period of full six days.

The manual also makes it clear that in today’s era young people are approaching adulthood faced with conflicting and confusing messages about sexuality and gender.

“This is often exacerbated by embarrassment, silence and disapproval of open discussion of sexual matters by adults, including parents and teachers, at the very time when it is most needed,” notes the manual.

This in a globalised world where young people are becoming sexually mature and active at an earlier age and marrying later, thereby extending the period of sexual maturity until marriage. The spread and easy access to sexually explicit materials through internet and other media is also contributing to the confusion. Therefore, comprehensive sex education, argues the manual, is urgently needed to address the gap in knowledge about HIV among young people aged 15 to 24 years, with 60 percent of that specific age category not able to correctly identify ways of preventing HIV transmission.

However, Namibia is not the only African country where pastors, teachers and parents are questioning the United Nations’ sex education curriculum that promotes sexual identity, which is heavily sexually explicit in its wording, and is taught to children from lower primary school to Grade 9.

Uganda, Kenya and parts of Zambia have also started questioning the education system, saying it encourages promiscuity, and promotes pornography through words. In parts of Kenya, sex education was suspended in several school districts in 2016 after it was noticed that teenager pregnancy increased, even at schools where sex education was not taught, in 2015 when the government started teaching this new UNFPA sex education.

The sex education course, designed by UNFPA, called Comprehensive Sexual Education, is part of Life Skills subject that empowers young people to protect their health, well-being and dignity.

“And because these programmes are based on human rights principles, they advance gender equality and the rights and empowerment of young people,” says UNFPA. The Namibian public has long questioned the education system saying that it encourages learners to engage in sex and inappropriate sexual contact.

According to Hanse-Himarwa, every single piece of content in the new curriculum would fit in properly to build and educate the Namibian child.

“It’s not true, there is nothing destructive. There is nothing satanic about it. The children must continue to learn. We must know that our societies are evolving with time. Today’s seven-year-old is not yesterday’s seven-year-old. The children have got a lot of exposure through different media and it’s better that we educate and teach them about sexuality, instead of running away from reality and allow people from outside to influence our children wrongly,” she said in a previous interview with New Era.

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