Adult education

Debunking the myths! | Empowering parents and teachers in Malawi on comprehensive sexuality education

Posted by Letswalo L Marobane on 15 September 2023, 11:20 SAST
Letswalo L Marobane photo

CSE Workshop participants sharing their reflections on CSE

Young Africans must have the facts and confidence to stay safe and healthy, live a dignified life and contribute positively to their community and countries. Prof Mbulelo Dyasi (Bishop, and Vice Chair, Board of Directors, INERELA)

Often unfairly attacked and misunderstood, comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) plays a critical role in addressing knowledge gaps and misinformation surrounding sexual reproductive health.

In fact, CSE helps individuals, especially young people, to develop a thorough and more complete understanding of their bodies, relationships and sexuality. As Prof Dyasi implies, it is essential for adolescents and young people to receive reliable, science-based information about sexuality so they can make informed decisions: CSE empowers individuals to make informed choices regarding their sexual health and wellbeing.

CSE covers a wide range of topics—from consent, relationships, reproductive health, gender identity, sexual orientation, contraception methods and sexually transmitted infections through to healthy decision-making skills. By addressing these subjects thoroughly at an appropriate age level, we can empower young people to make informed choices about their bodies and relationships.

With this in mind, from 19 to 23 June the Future-Life Now! Programme conducted a CSE workshop at Mbinzi Secondary School for 55 stakeholders, varying from teachers, parents and caregivers to health workers.

The workshop aimed to debunk myths and misconceptions regarding CSE, adopting a socio-ecological model whereby crucial stakeholders in a learner’s ecosystem gather in a safe space to share their candid thoughts on young people’s sexual reproductive health and rights. Maziko Matemvu,  FutureLife-Now!’s health coordinator, summed up the need:

There are 1.8 billion adolescents and young people in the world today, yet far too often, their needs are not fully met. Young people face multiple and intersecting challenges to their wellbeing.

But as she notes, the challenges young people face (including mental health issues, forms of malnutrition, poor SRHR leading to unintended pregnancies and HIV) need a multisectoral and holistic approach that includes teachers, parents and community workers as there are several myths and misconceptions about CSE that must be addressed.

Discussions during the workshop were open and frank. One of the major misconceptions about CSE that emerged is that it will lead to promiscuity, with some participants going as far as believing it encourages young people to engage in sex. But as the training was able to clarify, CSE adopts an age-appropriate approach tailored to the different stages of development, right from early childhood through to adolescence. Its content, therefore, is adapted to the level of understanding children have at each stage. Furthermore, as presenters highlighted in the workshop, scientific findings show that CSE delays sexual debut.

But CSE is not only about prevention; it also promotes responsible behaviour regarding sexual health by making informed choices rather than by relying on guesswork or misinformation, which can lead to unexpected and detrimental consequences. As one of the workshop participants noted, it is crucial for society that people update their beliefs about what constitutes effective sex education to ensure that all adolescents and young people have access to CSE.

What did the workshop achieve? Debunking myths and misconceptions surrounding comprehensive sexuality education is crucial for the wellbeing and empowerment of young people. The workshop provided parents and teachers with the right skills, adequate knowledge and tools to engage with young people, while it also addressed the falsehoods around CSE that have impeded young people’s development.

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