Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Access to Reproductive Health and Rights from a Religious Perspective

Earlier this month the IAM team met with our seven partners on our exciting new regional initiative looking at “Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Access to Reproductive Health and Rights from a Religious perspective”.

The project, funded by the Robert Carr Fund, builds on the work done under the HSRC-led Schools Out project, which undertook research in the seven program countries (Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa) to better understand the current state of comprehensive sexuality education in the region. 

We knew that the research undertaken in Schools Out would be just the first step, and that we needed to follow on with implementation to make use of the project learnings. But what would that look like for each of our regional partners? That is what we wanted to delve into with our partners in this convening.

We looked closely into the Schools Out research findings to draw out learnings to help us better understand our four thematic areas:

  • what comprehensive sexuality education currently looks like in classrooms (how teachers understand the discipline, whether they feel properly equipped to teach it, what challenges, resistance or backlash they face, etc.); 
  • what is the access to sexual reproductive health services (can learners access support and referral services, what do age-appropriate services look like, and the responsibilities of schools and rights of learners); 
  • whether young people have the necessary support and accompaniment, particularly learners that identify with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions and sex characteristics (SOGIESC); 
  • and how our regional partners and youth advisors can best be equipped to run programming around these issues.

Originally, we’d planned an in-person convening of 30+ people in Johannesburg at the end of 2020 to jointly tackle the design phase of the project. With the realities of COVID-19 continuing into 2021, we shifted gears and made plans for a hybrid in-person/online convening – in this way all of our partners were able to attend except for the Lesotho team who were under hard lockdown. In each country, teams met in person with a co-facilitator, and we at IAM hosted the sessions on an online learning platform with a group of experienced and inspiring speakers and facilitators. It was a learning experience for all of us – from the technology to the content and facilitation – and there were challenges, but there also were some real advantages to being able to meet remotely.

The convening wasn’t merely a time to report on country plans and programmes, but rather we took the opportunity to embrace this as an emergent process. Together we unpacked and reflected on the Schools Out learnings, contextualized them for each country’s on-the-ground reality, and then asked ourselves what we can do next and how we might best do it.

The aim was for each country partner to emerge from the convening with a clear picture of the two contextual interventions that they will engage in over the course of the project. The interventions vary widely – one partner, for example, is choosing to work through their well-established local government partners to look at how comprehensive sexuality education is already being implemented and where it can be strengthened; another country team plans to make use of its existing social media platforms to engage government and religious partners in legislative policy work. We’re excited to see how the next phase of this work unfolds, and we’ll be sure to share our findings with you.