Thinking out loud on sex education
IN 1770, Edmund Burke made a vital statement about living and I quote:
“The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”.
More than two centuries after, this parable rings true still and reverberates in almost every sphere of life and human endeavours while finding usefulness in driving positive changes and ensuring that the battle of good over evil is won.
Many times, one factor that may lead to the triumph of evil over good is misinformation or complete lack of knowledge. Therefore, according to the British philosopher, one thing that can constitute action is for people who are knowledgeable about certain issues to speak up and debunk myths. An example of such a myth is that sex education in schools destroys the moral and religious fabric of our society.
In his keynote address delivered on November 2, 2022, the Minister of Education Mallam Adamu Adamu, made a shocking statement, which has since become a burning national issue. In my opinion, this has not received the attention it deserves especially from gender advocates, feminists, civil society organisations, local and international NGOs, parents and indeed the general Nigerian populace.
His remarks have the tendency to blow off course our fight against gender inequality and gender-based violence in the country and if we do not rise to speak passionately about this and set the facts right, we could be allowing the evil of patriarchy to triumph over respect for the fundamental human rights of our women and girls. Let me assume that some of us may have been distracted by other happenings in Nigeria and the world over and for the benefit of doubt I would explain what was said and the implications it could have.
The minister in his speech openly declared that he is a believer of the myth that sex education should not be taught in schools and has consequently directed the Nigeria Educational Research and Development Council to “quickly review the curriculum and expunge any sexual education content.” According to him, one of three ways sex education can be taught was through religious and cultural instructions because “advocacy for sex education in schools is targeted at undermining and destroying the moral and religious fibres of our society.”
Simply put, the minister has put sex education solely in the hands of parents, wards, and community and religious leaders. This template is a disaster waiting to happen. It is retrogressive and cannot work in present day Nigeria. To say the least, it is a dictatorial approach peculiar only to emperors. Out of sheer respect, I will assume the minister has been misinformed and must have been led to believe that his recent assertion about sex education was the right path to follow. As a feminist and gender-advocate, I will therefore join my voice with the voices of other Nigerian women who have openly condemned the remarks and throw some light into the issue. Perhaps, the minister will find this write-up useful and take necessary steps to withdraw his initial comments.
First, the sex education cycle cannot be complete in the absence of formal educational settings, which can only be provided in schools. Without any doubt, children can get the information they need (including sex education) from home, however, young people need more than a one-time chat about their private areas. It is an on-going discussion with age-appropriate topics, which should be delivered in structured curricula within the walls of a classroom where children spend the most of their time during the day. Minister, reputable research has proven that sex education does not encourage sex, instead it was found that it is the most cost-effective intervention by which young people can protect themselves against abuse, exploitations, unintended pregnancies sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS.
Dairo and Adeomi, (2011), in a research conducted in Osun State, pointedly showed that 88.8% of parents who participated supported sex education. You will agree with me that this is a very good percentage to assume public opinion. The same research showed that lack of skill among parents was the most common reason why 33.3% of parents did not practice sex education at home. This means we would be taking a great risk if we leave sex education to parents alone since many of them are unskilled at delivering effective sex education.
Parental and cultural settings where sex education is practiced focus on abstinence-only education and once again, research has shown that abstinence-only education does not work-it doesn’t affect the rate at which teenagers decide to have sex. On the contrary, comprehensive school-based sex education has influenced important behaviours such as delaying sexual initiation, reducing the number of sexual partners, and increasing the use of condoms among youths who are sexually active. This is not a Nigerian factor alone. The World Health Organisation has attempted to scientifically resolve this debate as well. In their research, the world top’s health body reviewed 47 sex education programs in both developed and developing countries and found out that overwhelmingly, sex education did not lead to either the initiation of sexual activity or an increase in the frequency of sex among young people.
Second, as the First Lady of a state in Nigeria, I have often found myself at the centre of cases of rape and sexual violence too many to mention. May I inform the minister that many of these cases included a father sleeping with his own daughter for five years (until she was bold enough to speak to her teacher in school), a traditional ruler raping a minor, a 5-year-old daughter of a disabled woman raped by her neighbour, a 9-year-old girl raped and killed while urinating in a nearby bush by a total stranger in her community, and many more devastating cases. Two years ago, a pastor in Warri, Delta State was arrested for raping a 19-year-old girl who went to his church for deliverance. In Kaduna state, a 13-year-old girl was raped and impregnated by seven men including an Imam. This year alone, the media has been sputtered with shocking news of no less than 10 men arrested for raping their minor daughters, some as young as 7 years old. Many more remain unnoticed and continue to happen unabated.
The nature of silence is the singular most important factor why gender-based violence has become a perennial problem. Knowledge which can be obtained through sex education at any age can greatly influence the ability of young girls to speak up and give a good account of their sexual interactions. In addition, the common denominator in the cases I have mentioned is that they all have occurred within parental and cultural settings.
These are the same settings on which the minister intends to entrust sex education, while condemning its teaching in schools. May I remind the minister that in the first place, the incorporation of sex education into the Nigerian curriculum was not influenced by emotions, sentiments, or personal interest. It was the product of advocacy, research and public health intervention backed up by several international legislation to which Nigeria is signatory.
These include the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the UN World Program of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond, and the 2001 UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, and these have all affirmed the needs of young people for information, counseling, and high quality sexual and reproductive health services. These culminated to the Federal Ministry of Education approving the teaching of sexuality and life planning education in the secondary schools in 2002 paving the way for development of a national curriculum.
Finally, I strongly believe that the progress we have made so far fighting gender-based violence has largely been influenced by the implementation of this curriculum and we need sustained policy environment if we are to make more progress. We cannot afford to expunge the sex education curriculum as this will negatively impact the lives of our young girls especially. I therefore call on all well-meaning Nigerians, women organisations, civil society, and anyone who cares about the future of the women in Nigeria to speak up and stand against this attempt to silence the voice of Nigerian women. That voice is empowered through education, and we must make sure it never stops speaking.
Nigeria is a democratic nation, and the minister cannot impose his biased mindset about sex education on schools on the country. I recommend that the minister commissions local research on the issue and make informed decisions using facts and following internationally adaptable best practices. Most importantly, I demand that the minister, as a matter of urgency, retracts his initial comments and apologise to Nigerian women.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Mrs. Anyanwu-Akeredolu is First Lady of Ondo State, and founder Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu Foundation & BEMORE Empowered Girls Foundation.