Cape Town — A South African-based organization, Partners in Sexual Health (PSH) is of the opinion that church leaders are critical in the sex education debate and should be encouraged to start conversations and pick topics they are comfortable addressing.
PSH representatives said they have managed to get the buy-in from religious and traditional leaders in their country when it comes to addressing issues and understanding of sexual reproductive health as well as comprehensive sexuality education (CSE).
PSH national youth coordinator for Siyakwazi Youth Network Jabulile Nduzuzo Mlandu acknowledged during a recent media training and tour, that it was difficult to start conversations with religious and traditional leaders at the beginning.
"We invited the (church) youth to be part of our trainings, train them so that they go out and train peers within their churches because they know the language, instead of me going in with sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) terms that are kind of offensive or are out of church terms," stated Mlandu. He added traditional leaders shied away from male circumcision discussions because of the belief that it hindered on the privacy and the rights of people taking part in such practices.
"We needed to come up with facts and myths about male circumcision to get their buy-in. One was to show them when doing traditional male circumcision and you are not tested for HIV, the immune system gets compromised and that is were they get ill or die, while the sexual transmitted infection re-occurs.
So we needed to bring all the health and education part of it," he explained. In Namibia, the church and largely conservative parents have predominantly avoided discussions on comprehensive sexuality education.
A senior official from the ministry of education responsible for programmes and quality assurance Ayesha Wentworth recently shared at a Nairobi summit that the main problem was still with religious leaders and parents. "We have political will, but our problem is still with parents and religious leaders. Although we have to engage them, we need to work hard to ensure that they are well informed and educated about the realities of CSE," Wentworth said.
With religious leaders, Mlandu said, they needed to understand why they are not talking CSE in church. He said they divided the women, men and youth and they deal with women in faith-based institutions on SRHR.
This, he said, help them break away from thinking that they needed a pastor or bishop standing in front of the congregation demonstrating how to use a condom, for instance.
"But what we wanted to say is even in marriages there are unhealthy sexual behaviours, so this is when we deal with men in this institution and how to use condoms and test for HIV," he said. "We needed to take that away and bring medical terms and specialists who can break it down to church leaders and congregants that this is how HIV is actually cured."
Reverend Maria Kapere of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church said there is a framework, which was adopted by individual churches. However, she was not sure whether churches were practically utilising it. She said churches must give due attention to it and develop programmes and come together if they feel they need guidance, help or support. "But I think the church is in a better position to raise the funds themselves to train and educate the children and young adults," said Kapere.
CEO and founder of PSH Patsy De Lora reminded the media of their important role. She said when it comes to adolescent and young people issues, journalists have a role to keep the government accountable.
"It should not just depend on civil society, we need journalists. There is no way we can fight alone... then media play a tremendous role getting out what we are doing in the community," said De Lora.