How many of you think it’s a good thing that girls as young as 10 years old are getting pregnant? I think I know the answer.
Our February Film Festival continues with “Girls at the Heart of It: Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Kenya.”
In Kenya, anti-rights movements are blocking access to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) for girls and young people—a critical barrier to girls and young women realizing their full potential.
In this episode, we meet Purity Kagwiria, Executive Director of Akili Dada, an organization that provides education and leadership training to high school- and college-aged girls and young women. We also meet Mary Adhiambo, a young leader and sexual assault survivor in her early twenties who is taking her new organizing skills to the streets, and Mary Anyango, a high school student who is sharing what she’s learned about sexuality and leadership in her own community.
Across Kenya, young people and especially teenage girls are denied CSE and access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. According to a 2017 United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report, more than 390,000 10- to 19-year-olds became pregnant in Kenya between July 2016 and June 2017.
Patriarchy and religious and social conservatism are exacerbating the issue: teenage pregnancy is high, along with maternal mortality rates and rates of unsafe abortion. Pregnancy—often a result of a lack of comprehensive sexuality education—is one of the main reasons that girls drop out of school. For girls in Kenya, misinformation on sexuality and gender is coming from many different places: religious leaders, individuals with deep cultural and traditional beliefs, media and news sources, social media, or teachers without the skills or training to develop CSE.
But teenage girls and young women in Kenya are change-makers and leaders. Many of them are advocating for comprehensive sexuality education, educating their peers on their bodies and rights, and working for laws and policies that advance sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is about more than just reproductive health, pregnancy, and sex. A truly comprehensive sexuality education program includes positive, scientific, and nonjudgmental information about so much more, including gender roles and power relations, bodily autonomy, consent, and gender identity (among other important topics).
CSE is an incredibly effective tool to empower girls. A 2019 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report outlines why comprehensive sexuality education is crucial: it leads to improved health; contributes to gender equality; enables young women to understand basic facts about their bodies; encourages young people to think about families and social relationships, and recognize inappropriate behavior; and helps prepare women for healthy, consensual, and pleasurable relationships.
However, CSE is rare, and even basic information about sexual health can be lacking in many places. For example, 48% of girls in the Islamic Republic of Iran believe menstruation is a disease. Likewise, 51% of girls in Afghanistan and 82% in Malawi were unaware of menstruation before they first experienced it.
In the United States, CSE programming varies widely across the country. Currently, just 29 states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia mandate sexuality education, and 39 states mandate HIV education. Although almost every state has some guidance on how and when sexuality education should be taught, decisions are often left up to individual school districts.
Nothing changes if we don’t talk about it. Join us!
Be bold. Be Daring. Be AWE-dacious!