Right to information on Sexual and Reproductive Health
Sexual and Reproductive Health is a right firmly rooted in the most basic International Human Rights standards that also include the right to education, right to life, right to health and non-discrimination. There is therefore a need for the government, civic society and other stakeholders to work together in the development of a comprehensive sexuality education programme so that everyone is aware of Sexual and Reproductive Health rights and can enjoy them.
In Zimbabwe, some cultural perceptions, beliefs, myths and taboos have impacted negatively towards the dissemination of information on Sexual and Reproductive Health and sexuality education. There is now an urgent need to provide sexuality education targeting young people in schools and tertiary institutions, before young people reach puberty, and before they have developed established patterns of behaviour. This can help to break the cultural barriers to the understanding and enjoyment of Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights.
Sexuality education is the process of acquiring information and forming attitudes and beliefs about sex, sexual identity, relationships and intimacy. Sexuality education is also about developing young people's skills so that they make informed choices about their behaviour, and feel confident and competent about acting on these choices.
A comprehensive sexuality education can reduce the risks of potentially negative outcomes from sexual behaviour, like unwanted or unplanned pregnancies and infection with sexually transmitted diseases, and to enhance the quality of relationships. It can also develop young people's ability to make decisions over lifetime.
Young people, particularly girls have a right to sexuality education, partly because it is a means by which they are helped to protect themselves against abuse, exploitation, unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS. Zimbabwe ranks third in the world in the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and also faces high rates of both teenage pregnancy and maternal mortality. HIV prevalence rate of young women below the age of 20 is five times higher than their male counterparts according to the Zimbabwe Human Development Report, 2003. The prevalence rate for the nation stands at 14% (Ministry of Health Report, 2008). Gender sensitive programmes need to be developed so as to reduce the dangers and risks facing young women. Some cultural practices in Zimbabwe condone practices that violate young women’s sexual and reproductive health rights.
The Central Statistics Office, International Collaborative Effort report of 2001 states that adolescents, particularly girls are the worst affected because they cannot negotiate for safer sex and they have limited access to reproductive health services and information.
Sexuality education can provide the opportunities for young people to develop skills, as it can be hard for them to act on the basis of only having information. The skills young people develop as part of sexuality education are linked to more general life-skills, which are, being able to communicate, listen, negotiate, ask for and identify sources of help and advice. These are useful life-skills and can be applied in terms of sexual relationships.
Effective sexuality education develops young people's skills in negotiation, decision-making, assertion and listening.
Other important skills include being able to recognise pressures from other people and to resist them, dealing with and challenging prejudice and being able to seek help from adults - including parents, carers and professionals - through the family, community and health and welfare services. Sexuality education that works also helps equip young people with the skills to be able to differentiate between accurate and inaccurate information, and to discuss a range of moral and social issues and perspectives on sex and sexuality issues.
It is a fact that young people get information about sex and sexuality from a wide range of sources including each other and the media. Some of the information will be accurate and some inaccurate. As such, it is important to provide young people with information through sex education as a way of finding out what young people already know and adding to their existing knowledge and correcting any misinformation. In response to this need the Sexual Rights Centre (SRC) is developing a Sexuality Education Curriculum that will be used by schools Zimbabwe. The SRC hopes to lobby the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture to adopt the Sexuality Education Curriculum so that it can be used by other schools nationwide. The goal is to develop lesson plans that use participatory learning action tools to reach young people in an innovative and participatory way.
SRC believes that talking about sexuality in a Human Rights context will enable young people to deal with issues such as pregnancy, STIs including HIV/AIDS, abuse and rape as well as reduce the stigma and shame surrounding sex and sexuality in Zimbabwe.