Developing a just society based on equity and equal opportunities for all with respect for diversity.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Let's talk about sex!

By Salomey Boakye

It was great being part of IS-RAINS team that organized a sensitization session on sexual health in the Nayorku and Gbimsi communities. This session really intensified my quest of having more zeal to educate the larger population in rural communities on sexual and reproductive health issues. Most rural folks have little or no knowledge of some basic sexual rights and sexual consent of their partners.

From my observation at these communities, most young men do not know how to put on condoms. Not leaving the women (both young and old), most of them were unaware of other methods of contraception and ways to prevent STIs. The sensitization carried out was a success to me as it went on a long way on addressing some sexual health issues in these communities.

 Access to health is a basic human right and this includes sexual and reproductive health. To ensure these rights, people must be educated on their reproductive health and rights as well as their sexual health and rights. All persons irrespective of their age and gender must be treated according to their needs and work against prejudgement which may limit access to sexual and reproductive health services. Good sexual and reproductive health services promote public health and improve quality of life. They can reduce the risk of disability, diseases or death from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV and AIDS, as well as unwanted pregnancies and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation. Having a choice about how many children a woman has and when makes pregnancy, childbirth and abortion much safer.

Despite the obvious gains, most people in Ghana, especially adolescents, have little or no knowledge on sexual and reproductive health which makes them vulnerable to sexual abuse, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. There has been a lot of stigma discussing issues related to sexual and reproductive health due to religious and moral reasons. Conversations on sexual matters may be seen as rude and impolite so many people find it difficult to talk about sexual matters openly and freely, even when they need urgent information and help to make informed decisions about their sexual health.

Moreover, abstinence until marriage is the only aspect of sex education taught in schools. It is of good value to promote because abstinence is the most effective and cheapest way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. It also promotes adolescent chastity which is one of the Ghanaian values.  It is important educators encourage teenagers to delay sexual initiation and also to abstain from sex, but they should also know that not everyone can abstain, therefore there is the need to include lessons on other aspects of sexual and reproductive health including the use of contraception such as condoms. Teenagers naturally become curious about the rapid changes in their body and feelings and attraction for the opposite sex, but the inadequate education on sexual and reproductive health causes many problems, especially girls. With incorrect information at the heart of their predicament they fall prey to unwanted pregnancies and become a burden on their families and their society; otherwise it can sometimes result in unsafe abortions which might lead to death or serious complications afterwards or later in life. Even teenagers who decide to abstain from sex needs information about contraception to help them prevent unintended pregnancy, HIV and AIDS and other STIS when they do become sexually active.

Furthermore, many young people in Ghana are denied access to information and support that would enable them to protect their own sexual and reproductive health. They might be denied this because they are in remote areas which have limited access to information and services, or they are not married, or to be seen as legitimately sexually active, they have unsupportive partners. Even adolescents who are bold enough to ask questions about sexual and reproductive issues are often ignored by their parents, elders or teachers or are being encouraged to practise abstinence which is not always feasible. The question we should ask ourselves is – if teaching or promoting abstinence is so effective, then why still the high prevalence of teenage pregnancy in Ghana?

According to the May 2013 report by the Ghana Coalition of NGOs in health (GCNH) an estimated 750,000 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 become pregnant in Ghana every year, with reports about teenage pregnancy becoming more frequent during the sitting of the Basic Education Certificate Examination (B. E. C. E). The 2010 population and housing census (PHC) indicates that children and young people between the ages 15 to 24 form 58.3% of the total population. Like any other country they are the future leaders, and they need to be provided with the right kind of information and improved health services to enable them make informed decisions. Improving the sexual and reproductive health of Ghanaians through high quality sexual and reproductive health education in schools and homes can make meaningful contributions to the health and wellbeing of the individual, their families and Ghana at large.

Sexuality is an integral part of each person’s identity, and learning about our sexuality and achieving good sexual health and reproductive health is a lifelong process. The adolescent stage of development is characterised by rapid changes especially physical, emotional, hormonal, psychological and sexual growth. Therefore parents and guardians should be the primary sex educators of their children - children receive information about sexuality from many other sources, and some of them may have more negative than positive impact. Community based organizations can be important partners with parents to provide young people accurate and developmentally appropriate sex education by organising community sensitisations, and also by training peer educators in various communities because young people trust their peers more and can freely share information on their sexuality.
In addition duty bearers in the country should be more committed in strengthening the guidance and counselling unit of the Ghana Education Service by including comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education. Educating pupils on their sexuality will not promote sexual activities, but it will rather inform them about their sexual rights and possible consequences of risky sexual behaviours. Sexual and reproductive education should also consider social, cultural and economic factors that prevent young people from making healthy decisions.

Sexuality touches all of our lives, and we need not be ashamed of it. Everyone has the right to a healthy, dignified and safe sex life, and the education necessary to achieve that.

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