The School’s Out project: how do religion and faith impact comprehensive sexuality education in high schools across Eastern and Southern Africa?

IAM is excited to manage a component of the School’s Out Project, a two-year project funded by Amplify Change and implemented by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). The project seeks to create safer and more inclusive environments for learners by linking schools across Eastern and Southern Africa to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health (SRH) support. 

IAM’s component of the School’s Out Project, spread over 7 SADC countries, attempts to answer the following research question through a qualitative, collaborative and interactive approach: How does religion and faith impact the implementation of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) at high schools, which includes the referral of learners to appropriate Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services where necessary?

This research project creates opportunities to work closely with IAM’s regional in-country partners from Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho and Malawi to surface knowledge on how best to implement school-based SRH programming in culturally appropriate and sensitive ways. 

IAM’s expertise is grounded in creating and facilitating intentional conversations around the intersection of sexuality, identity, gender, body characteristics and expression, and faith. Our Wheel of Change theory of action underpins our work, facilitating change by moving through a process towards recognition, inclusion and celebrating diversity. Our methodology includes strategic components of “Open Minds” (creating the awareness of diversity through personal story-telling and narratives that capture lived realities of Queer bodies); “Open Hearts” (creating safe, brave spaces for engaging conversations and dialogue); and “Open Doors” (working towards an enabling community or environment where diversity is not only appreciated but included, affirmed and supported). 

IAM’s methodology was refined mainly in faith spaces and within religious communities. However, through the School’s Out Project IAM will test our practice to facilitate meaningful and intentional change within schools where Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is being implemented with the hope that religion or faith can be used as a positive tool and not a hinderance. Our position is that religion and faith must be included in the “comprehensive” aspect of sexuality education to support the teaching and learning in the classroom and to ensure that it is not a barrier in referring learners to SRH services where needed. 

The learnings and insights surfaced will be synthesised into a learning resource document which will be the basis for knowledge-sharing, capacity building and advocacy programming to support learners and strengthening the teaching and learning of CSE in high schools.

Marlow Newman-Valentine, IAM Regional Programme Coordinator