Uganda has launched its first ever guideline on sex education. The National Sexuality Education Framework 2018 aims to provide a formal, national direction for sex education within Uganda’s schools, ensuring that all programmes adhere to the same approach.
The problem is that Uganda’s society holds very traditional values. This is reflected in the country’s policies and laws, like the “anti-Gay law” which came into force in 2014 and criminalises homosexuality.
As a result of this social conservatism, the new sex education framework is based on religious and cultural values that instruct abstinence only teaching. Students are taught the virtue of premarital abstinence and marital faithfulness. They are also taught traditional gender roles for men and women and that masturbation and same-sex sexual relationships aren’t normal.
This formalises what has already been happening. Uganda has taken an abstinence-only approach in schools for a long time. The framework just makes it a matter of national policy.
But it doesn’t fit the reality. Many young people are already sexually active. We know this from the high rate of pregnancies and unsafe abortions in the country. One of the leading causes of death and disability among young Ugandan women are pregnancy-related.
To understand what policies would make more sense for the sexual and reproductive health of young people, I conducted research among students and sex education teachers in secondary schools in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, between 2008 and 2013.
My findings confirm that Uganda’s abstinence-only approach is problematic for a number of reasons. It limits students’ choices and it prevents them from trusting, accessing and using contraception. This in turn puts them at a higher risk of pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and unsafe abortions.
The framework also shelters students from understanding and questioning harmful gender roles and stigmatises students who don’t adhere to society’s morally-accepted norms and values.