On January 15, 2018, the Honourable Minister for Education of Sweden, Gustav Fridolin, joined representatives from UNESCO, the Zambian Departments of General Education and Higher Education, government representatives from Ghana and Zambia, young people and UN partners in Lusaka to launch the “Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future” (O3) programme. The O3 Programme will support the delivery of good quality comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) that empowers adolescents and young people aiming ultimately for a consistent reduction in new HIV infections, early and unintended pregnancies, gender-based violence, and child marriage. “Through this programme, we envision a sub-Saharan Africa where positive health, education and gender equality outcomes are a reality for children and young people” said Patricia Machawira, Regional Health and Education Advisor at UNESCO, “Young people are receiving confusing and conflicting messages about relationships, sex and gender. It’s critical that schools deliver scientifically accurate education that develops the skills, knowledge, attitudes and competencies needed to navigate a healthy transition to adulthood. Government and the education sector in sub-Saharan Africa have both an opportunity and an urgent responsibility to scale up sexuality education programs.”

Minister Fridolin speech during the O3 launch

Ministers who attended the O3 launch

Why is CSE important?

Evidence reveals that CSE, in or out of schools, does not increase sexual activity, sexual risk-taking behaviour, or STI/HIV infection rates. Additionally, evidence shows that abstinence-only programmes fail to prevent early sexual initiation, or reduce the frequency of sex and number of partners among young people. In fact, newly published revised Guidance from the UN shows that good quality CSE can help young people delay their first sexual experience, and further leads to more responsible decisions including sexual consent and the use of condoms or contraception for those who are sexually active.

This evidence debunks certain arguments made against CSE and should allow for a strengthening of political will across sub-Saharan Africa to educate young people properly in order to help them overcome the challenges posed by sexual and reproductive health issues, which are particularly difficult during puberty, including issues around access to contraception, early pregnancy, gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV and AIDS.

“Every young person has the right to enjoy sexuality and Comprehensive Sexuality Education. This makes for important steps towards gender equality, and is therefore an investment in development, economy and society as a whole,” said Minister Fridolin, “Comprehensive Sexuality Education of good quality is never an issue that concerns only girls. To reach shared and equal responsibility and healthy attitudes, sexual and reproductive health and rights and Comprehensive Sexuality Education are as important for boys and men, as they are for girls and women.”

Minister Fridolin meeting with SAfAIDS partners

Minister Fridolin meeting with SAfAIDS partners

Zambia reaffirms its commitment to delivering CSE

While in Zambia, the Honourable Minister Fridolin engaged in a policy dialogue with senior representatives of Ministries of Education and Health from Zambia, Zimbabwe and Ghana. Minister Fridolin also visited community based programmes in Lusaka that provide health services to young people and offer platforms for youth engagement and advocacy for better sexual and reproductive health and rights.

With HIV prevalence among adults in Zambia at 11.6%, and concerns about high levels of teenage pregnancy affecting girls schooling in particular, Zambia’s Ministers of General and Higher Education have reaffirmed their commitment to delivering CSE to all children and young people as a cornerstone of their health promotion efforts. “Since 2013 we have worked intensively across many departments to bring higher quality comprehensive sexuality education to learners across Zambia.” said Honourable Minister of General Education, Dr. Dennis M. Wanchinga MP. “After revising curricula in 2013, we have trained over 65, 000 teachers in effective CSE delivery since 2014 either through face-to-face training or newly developed online

Minister Fridolin meeting with Ministers of Higher Education and General Education

platforms representing 65% of the total number of teachers in the country. Comprehensive Sexuality Education has been integrated in the national examinations for Grade 7, 9 and 12, and new text books for teacher and learners have been developed to support the curriculum.” Zambia’s investment in strengthening CSE positions the country as a champion on the African continent and a key partner for Sweden and UNESCO in the roll out of the new phase of the O3 programme.

Minister Fridolin meets with Key stakeholders

About the O3 programme:

With the support of the governments of Sweden and Ireland, the O3 Programme, delivered by UNESCO in collaboration with national governments, builds on current efforts by UNESCO to improve sexual and reproductive health, gender and education outcomes for adolescents and young people.

Between 2018 and 2020, the O3 Programme plans to reach 10.7 million learners, in 45 000 primary and secondary schools, 30 000 preservice teachers, and 186 000 in-service teachers. An additional 30 million people (parents, guardians, religious leaders, and young people out of school) will be reached through community engagement activities and 10 million young people through social and new media platforms.

South Africa is among 31 countries that will benefit from the UNESCO O3 Programme on comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). The regional programme entitled, “Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future” is a three year (2018-2020) programme which aims to contribute towards reductions in new HIV infections, early and unintended pregnancies, gender based violence and child marriages.

South Africa is among the focus countries for this programme together with Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, United Republic of Tanzania and Uganda. Networking countries include Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Chad, Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, South Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Funded by Sweden and Ireland to the tune of about US$10 million, the programme builds on the achievements of the landmark 2013 East and Southern Africa Ministerial Commitment, which has been instrumental in scaling-up comprehensive sexuality education and access to sexual and reproductive health services for young people. It will also share lessons and lay the basis for a similar political commitment in West and Central Africa in order to accelerate the implementation of CSE in that region.

As part of the programme, Sweden’s Minister of Education, Honourable Gustav Fridolin visited South Africa from 12-13 January 2018 to raise political attention to young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, including young people’s access to comprehensive sexuality education. Other delegates who were part of the mission to South Africa include the Ghanaian Deputy Minister of Education Ms Barbara Asher, the SADC Secretariat, and senior government officials from Cote d’Ivoire and Swaziland.

During his visit, the Minister attended a youth dialogue on teen pregnancy in Johannesburg to create a better understanding of challenges faced by young people when they fall pregnant. At the end of the dialogue, there was a strong recommendation to bring parents on-board with regards to CSE and engagement of other sectors such as the religious sector. The Minister then had another dialogue with religious leaders in Pretoria that looked at the role of communities and religious leaders in CSE delivery.

He also attended a high-level policy dialogue on CSE organised by the Department of Basic Education in Pretoria.  The dialogue renewed participants’ understanding and engagement on CSE implementation across Sub-Saharan Africa. Ministerial collaboration to promote school and health facility linkages were also discussed.

The O3 programme will support the delivery of good quality CSE that empowers adolescents and young people, while developing the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and competencies needed to sustain positive education, health and gender equality outcomes. Between 2018 and 2020, the O3 programme will reach 10.7 million learners in 45 000 primary and secondary schools, 30 000 pre-service teachers and 186 000 in service teachers. An additional 30 million people (parents, guardians, religious leaders, and young people out of school) will be reached through community engagement activities and 10 million young people through social and new media platforms.