Nearly 200 teachers, government officials, CSO workers, researchers, and other stakeholders from across Sub-Saharan Africa gathered virtually on Zoom to discuss challenges and opportunities around disability-inclusive sexuality education on 15th March. This was done as a part of UNESCO’s “Connect and Learn” A Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Community of Practice (CoP) to Support Young People to Build Strong Foundations for Life which was launched in November 2022. The CoP aims to connect teachers and various multi-sectoral stakeholders and create a platform where they can share knowledge and experiences; build specialized knowledge; and access useful and innovative resources in the delivery of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). The highlight of the webinar was a panel discussion with teachers and representatives from Ministry of Education, CSO, and academia.
"There is a cultural belief that people with disabilities have no sexual feeling", said Ms. Wezzie Phiri teacher at Mlodza Primary School in Lilongwe, Malawi. "This is a common myth which hinders access to sexuality education among learners with disabilities."
Even if sexuality education is provided, the programmes may not adequately meet needs of learners with disabilities. “Many teachers struggle delivering CSE for learners with different types of disabilities. CSE teaching and learning materials are often not accessible”, said Ms. Anzoa Fortunate Kenyi from Humanity and Inclusion in South Sudan. Dr. Jill Hanass-Hancock from South African Medical Research Council urged that educators get trained in both CSE and inclusive approaches. “Inclusive CSE is good for everyone, not just learners with disabilities. It’s called Universal Access to Learning”, said Dr. Hanass-Hancock. National laws and policies are vital for ensuring safe and inclusive environment for all learners. Ms. Elizabeth Makuwa, Senior Education Officer for Inclusive Education from the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture of Namibia shared a story where a national policy safeguarded rights to education among learners with disabilities. “We have a pregnancy policy which speaks to learners with all disabilities. In one of our resource schools (for learners with disabilities), we had a child with hearing impairment who got pregnant. The father of the baby also had a hearing impairment. The school president followed the policy and ensured continuation of education for both of them”, said Ms. Makuwa. Importance of building community support for CSE was emphasized by Mr. Webster Mashiri, a teacher from the Intellectual Impairment Resource Unit at Nyamhuka Primary School Nyanga in Zimbabwe.
“We should have multi-disciplinary teams collaborating together for awareness-raising campaigns in communities” said Mr. Mashiri.
Development of evidence base is also critical in advancing CSE for learners with disabilities. Much of existing evidence comes from outside Sub-Saharan Africa. “We need more evidence that speaks to beneficiaries in this region. Sharing of lessons learned and good practices help us complement each other”, said Professor Tsitsi Chataika, Associate Professor of Inclusive Education and Disability Inclusion from University of Zimbabwe. She expressed appreciation towards UNESCO’s report, State of comprehensive sexuality education for young people with disabilities in the Eastern and Southern Africa: Needs assessment. “African researchers should stand up, collaborate, and do more research around this topic”, said Professor Chataika. CSE is fundamental to empowering all children and young people including those with disabilities. As we say, “Nothing about us, without us”, children and young people with disabilities should not be left behind. Dr. Patricia Machawira from UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa also reminded the audience that Children with disabilities are not a homogeneous group, and therefore we should have a “toolbox” of approaches and resources. ‘Connect and Learn’ CoP will continue serving as a regional platform for peer learning and resource sharing on CSE.