Strengthening health and well-being in sub-Saharan Africa through CSE

Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is increasingly recognised as critical to the empowerment of young people in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), with 14 Ministers of Education and of Health taking part in UNESCO's high-level dialogue in Accra, Ghana on 29 – 30 January 2019.

The event aimed to build political commitment for CSE programmes in the region and featured a regional launch of the Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future (O³) campaign. The programme, developed by UNESCO, in partnership with Sweden and Ireland, is expected to reach over 30 million adolescents and young people from 31 SSA countries. It supports the delivery of good quality CSE that empowers adolescents and young people by building skills, knowledge and attitudes to prevent HIV, reduce early and unintended pregnancies and eliminate gender-based violence.

“Africa’s youth are its future and most precious resource,” said Ms Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO. “Defending young women’s right to education is crucial both as a goal in and of itself, and as a means to better health and development outcomes. Knowledge protects. Risks [are high] if we do not address barriers to young people’s health and education.”

The event featured a visit to Accra Girls’ Senior High School, and a presentation of UNESCO’s CSE campaign, A foundation of life and love, which highlights inter-generational stories from families the world over to show why it is important for young people to learn about health, relationships, gender, sex and sexuality.

Speaking at Accra Girls’ Senior High School, where Ministers and delegates met secondary school students taking part in curriculum-based CSE programmes, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education, Stefania Giannini, reaffirmed UNESCO’s commitment to CSE.

“Good quality, age-appropriate, evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education is crucial for all children and young people. It will contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals – in particular those related to education, health and gender equality,” Ms Giannini said.   

Ghana’s Minister for Education Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh emphasized during the dialogue that, despite some strides in CSE in different countries, there is more crucial work to be done in order to ensure that adolescents and young people learn in a safer environment that will contribute to quality and better educational outcomes.

She said: “This meeting in Accra, Ghana, shows that our government partners recognize the responsibility to promote human development, including good quality education and good health, as well as to implement effective strategies to educate and protect all children, adolescents and young people, including those living with disabilities; from early and unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV, risks of substance use and to combat all forms of discrimination and rights violations including child marriage.”

What is Comprehensive Sexuality Education?

CSE is a way of equipping young people with the knowledge and the skills that they need to navigate a safe and healthy passage to adulthood. It is part of the curriculum within schools, and should include subjects such as healthy relationships, anatomy, gender equality, and how their choices affect their own well-being as well as that of others.