NTINDA: On 16th December 2021, the Uganda Key Populations Consortium (UKPC) in partnership with Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) held a high-level meeting on Sexuality Education for out of School Young People amidst COVID-19, at the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC).
The meeting was attended by key stakeholders from government ministries like the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development (MGLSD), UAC, Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Advocates, Health workers, and partners.
The available guidelines on sexuality education for out of school young people in Uganda have not yet been approved. However, Ms. Patience Namanya, SRHR Coordinator at MGLSD said that they seek to provide out of school young people with adequate and appropriate information, values, and skills on sexuality in accordance with the country’s national, religious and cultural values so that they will be able to choose responsible behaviors for their health and enhance socio-economic development.
The targeted age brackets in the guidelines are 10- 12 (young adolescence), 13-16 (adolescence) and 17-24 (young adults).
A nine member committee of senior management officials from the Gender Ministry, was able to address the concerns that were raised during the past multi sectional consultations.
These included; inclusion of parenting skills among life skills, inclusion of norms in the guidelines, clarifications on who should provide the guidelines among others.
Uganda has had a long journey of getting sexuality education for young people widely accepted. This has been the case due to lack of consensus among responsible parties, such as the religious and cultural institutions, among others, despite the many consultations that were held.
Why the Sexuality Education framework for the Out of School?
Implementing regional and global commitments geared towards ending AIDs by 2030 are crucial.
The East and Southern African Commitment, a regional framework for 21member states in the ESA region, including ministers of education and health seeks to protect adolescent SRHR, enhance the provision of comprehensive sexuality education in and out of schools.
It also speaks to reducing new HIV infections, reducing early and unintended pregnancies, eliminating child marriages and others.
By the end of 2019, Uganda had joined the 14 countries in the world to score early attainment of The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) 90-90-90 goals to eliminate new infections of HIV by 2030, according to a mid-term “Progress Report on Enhancing Laboratory Capacity to Combat HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria.”
Now that the targets have been updated to 95-95-95 where by 95% of those living with HIV should know their status, 95% of those who know their status should be on treatment and 95% of those on treatment to be virally suppressed, it is prudent that all populations are targeted for the HIV prevention interventions.
The closure of schools due to COVID-19 has shown that homes are not as safe places as it was assumed, for young people. Teenage pregnancies and child marriages have only increased, and new HIV infections are feared to increase.
For Key Populations (KP) including sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, people who inject drugs and others, the HIV incidence is feared to have gone high, due to their vulnerability.
Sharing his views during the meeting, Allan Nsubuga from Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) said,
“Very many people who are out of school don’t have families, and are members of key populations including sex workers, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ). If they’re not getting information on how to protect themselves, prevent HIV and other illnesses, then we are not really helping because at the end of the day, statistics have it that many health workers at health facilities are not well versed with gender and sexual orientation issues,” he said.
Because parents are not able to provide sexuality education for their children, such a framework will guide civic, community leaders to provide this guidance to protect children from getting early pregnancies or contracting HIV, according to Dr. Daniel Byamukama, the Head of HIV Prevention at the UAC.
“The girl out of school needs guidance, and we have discovered that parents can’t give that guidance. Many people cannot afford to do their parenting role because of limitations in education, and there are so may broken homes; parents are so busy looking for survival from morning to evening,” he added.
Throughout the session, the need to persistently engage with stakeholders and policy makers on inclusion of the marginalized populations in the framework was emphasized, and creating allies with technical persons in the responsible ministries.
“In our country, most of our people are still closed and we need to find a way of making them accept us,” Dr. Byamukama said.
Working with the UKPC to develop an advocacy tool, he said that this will help in development of the right messages that will be used in communication to different stakeholders.
“We want the sexuality education framework to basically speak to the comprehensive needs of out of school young people, and also to be comprehensive enough to speak to other reproductive health needs and other HIV related needs that young people need,” Nsubuga said.