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Patriarchy, Colonialism and Religion: Putting the African Child at the Center of Comprehensive Sexuality Education in West Africa

Patriarchy, Colonialism and Religion: Putting the African Child at the Center of Comprehensive Sexuality Education in West Africa

In West Africa, many parents and adults in general,
shy away from discussing sex related issues with children
and young people. In spite of the taboo that surrounds
sexuality, boys learn directly or indirectly from
their peers and society at large, that they are supposed
to be sexually active from the adolescent age in order
to be considered “real” boys. Girls, on the other hand,
are subjected to all kinds of practices including female
genital mutilations and early marriage in some parts of
the region, to ensure they keep their virginity till marriage.
Cultural and religious beliefs shape the way sexuality
should be perceived and expressed.
Heterosexuality is the norm and homophobia, which
did not exist before colonialism according to research,
is now rampant in West Africa. The consequences of
children and young people’s limited access to comprehensive
sexuality education (CSE) are a high prevalence
of child sexual abuse, teenage pregnancies, sexually
transmitted infections (STIs) including Human
Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and unsafe abortions
among young people.
Over the past ten years, I have been facilitating
trainings with parents, religious leaders, teachers, state
and civil society actors to break the spell of patriarchy,
colonialism and religion in order to put the child at
the centre of CSE in West Africa. My trainings are
contributing to a growing understanding and conviction
among key stakeholders that CSE is not a western
notion and does not encourage children and young
people to engage in early sex, as many people think,
but it equips them to make informed decisions about
their sexual health. How can we Africans serve as
powerful change agents in our communities, countries
and on the continent? Believing in and practicing what
we preach as well as using a non-judgemental and a
process oriented approach is essential to help change
Keywords: Adolescent sexual and reproductive health,
Gender equality, Human rights
Source of Funding: The trainings have been conducted
as part of the following projects: (1) Pan African
Project on Comprehensive Sexuality Education implemented
in selected countries in Southern, East and
West Africa by Save the Children International and
funded by Swedish International Development Agency
(Sida); (2) Empowering Adolescent Girls and Young
Women through Education, a joint programme United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Entity for
Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
(UNWomen) and United Nations Population Fund
(UNFPA) implemented in Mali and funded by the
Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA);
(3) Strengthening Civil Society for Family Planning
Plus in West Africa Project (CS4FP Plus) implemented
by IntraHealth and funded by William and Flora
Hewlett Foundation and the Dutch Embassy.
Conflict of Interest and Disclosure Statement: The
author received honoraria as consultant from Save the
Children International, UNESCO, UNFPA and
IntraHealth/CS4FP Plus for the trainings conducted.

Speakers: Ame Atsu David