Nigel: Young. Zimbabwean. Gay.

Nigel James has been living in South Africa since 2014, living on his own and working in Johannesburg. An independent and hardworking soul, Nigel relishes in the fast-paced life there, but he still follows events going on in Zimbabwe, with a particular investment in the resurgence of citizen movements. Despite this desire to contribute, Nigel hasn’t been back to Zimbabwe in three years. And there’s two very good reasons why. Continue reading →

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Sex Ed in Zimbabwe: does it do the job?

The recent Court ruling that banned child marriages and raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 years has been applauded and welcomed by Zimbabweans in the country and abroad.   For years many women  and men have fought tirelessly to protect children (specifically girls) from child marriages, and the ruling was a breath of fresh air in the long struggle.  The ruling coincides with increased discussion and talk on  introducing contraceptives into high schools.  This debate, unlike the court’s decision, has not gone as smoothly nor has it been well received by many.   Nevertheless, it’s important to look at the state of gender and sex education in  Zimbabwe, and  whether it is doing any  good.

Reviewing the Current System

There have been several papers written on gender and sex education.  They all reach the same conclusion: Zimbabwe’s education system doesn’t do enough to cover this important conversation.  In her 2012 dissertation, Miriam Banda examined the educational materials used in high schools, as well as the structure of gender and sex education curriculum.  Her findings highlight the problem areas.   Guidance and Counselling (G & C) lessons, or Life Orientation, or Life Skills, is where teachers are supposed to cover topics such as sexual health, contraception, and gendered roles.  However, the reality is different.  The content covered in these classes isn’t examinable, so it’s not given as much attention as other ‘more important’ subjects.  Furthermore, according to Banda’s research, if teachers feel uncomfortable with the subject matter, they can simply skip a topic or cancel the lesson.  The same mentality for History or Geography is unthinkable, so why is it so easy for them to opt out of G & C?

The inadequacies don’t stop there.  When teachers do engage with students, the main message they preach is abstinence.  Whilst teaching abstinence is not bad, it is bad when it’s the only message they convey to teenagers at the expense of other information.  It’s impractical to believe that teenagers will abstain from sex just because they are told to – they are teenagers after all.  The logic behind abstinence-only education is a fear that talking about sex will lead to teenagers wanting to have sex.  There is a major flaw in this reasoning: teenagers are already having sex.  Furthermore, as Crispen Bhukuvhani notes in his 2012 paper, the abstinence that teachers and parents advocate contradicts HIV/AIDS literature, which preaches safe sex.  Getting conflicting messages about sexual health leads to even more confusion.

It’s not just about sex

There is another fundamental flaw in the argument against comprehensive sex and gender education is that it will only be about sex itself, which is incorrect.  Sex and gender education is about teaching teenagers about contraceptives and reproductive health, but it’s so much more than that.  It’s  teaching them about consent.  It’s teaching them their legal and reproductive rights. It’s teaching them about rape and sexual assault.  It’s informing them about the avenues and options available to them if or when they are raped.  It’s teaching victims not to blame themselves and teaching perpetrators not to rape.  Ultimately it’s teaching teenagers that sex is not just a physical act: there are psychological, legal and societal aspects to it that are swept under the rug simply because people don’t want to compromise their comfort.

Insider Opinions

Former Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture David Coltart agrees that Zimbabwe’s education system can do better.  Although he is unsure what the current curriculum covers, he believes it’s time for a review:

 “The current curriculum needs a drastic overhaul generally.”  Zimbabwe’s curriculum hasn’t transformed alongside the socio-cultural changes in the country.  “Many children get involved in sexual relations because they have no hope that they can go on to get a qualification and a decent job. We have to give children more and better education on these issues, but we need to give children hope”, emphasizes Coltart.

Sian Maseko, a feminist and women’s rights activist, agrees that more needs to be done:

“The truth is  young people will get the information somewhere and somehow. So we need to ask ourselves the question – isn’t it better that they get comprehensive sexuality education that deals with sex, sexuality, identities, intimate relationships, violence, sexual health, consent, coercion, peer pressure etc. in a way that is mature, correct and creates a space for discussion and questions than for them to learn it from peers or magazines? The most important aspect of issues to do with sex and gender are how society and social spaces construct our understanding of them – so what does society say about women and sexuality? What does society think about married people using condoms? What does society say about sex work? We need to start addressing some of these harmful norms that prevent individuals from enjoying their sexuality and exploring in a safe, knowledgeable and consensual way.
In all societies in the world there are harmful norms about women and their sexuality. What do you call a man who has sex with a lot of women? What do you call a woman who has sex with lots of men? The answer is definitely not the same because we judge women and women’s sexuality more harshly than men.
 This is why it has to start at school. Young people need to explore these issues together in a way that says, ‘questions are good’, ‘violence is wrong’, ‘you can say ‘no’ whether you are a boy or a girl’, ‘you have the right to protect yourself so you can carry condoms whether you are a boy or a girl’. For as long as society believes that sex is for men then we will never shift our understanding of sex and sexuality”.

Conclusion

It takes teachers, parents and guardians, and religious leaders to give Zimbabwean teenagers a comprehensive sex and gender education.  Of course it can be argued that our country has bigger things to worry about at this point, but it’s easy to forget that teenagers won’t stay teenagers forever.  The older they get, the harder it is to correct the harmful thinking and mentalities that they could one day pass on to their children.   We’ve shown that our country is capable of The question now is, are Zimbabweans ready to bite the bullet and have an honest talk about sex?

Photo sourced from http://quib.ly/

Busiso and moving to South Africa

Busiso was 14 when he moved to South Africa.  Zimbabwe’s economy had taken a spectacular nosedive, and it was decided that for him, South Africa was a better environment.  His father was already working in Pretoria as a doctor, but the rest of his family stayed back home.  Busiso was completely alone in Johannesburg.  “It wasn’t the easiest of moves”, he says, as he shifts slightly in his chair.  “It was during that time when xenophobia was a thing.”

                                               “IT WAS NOT THAT EASY AT ALL.”

Adjusting to a new school, St. Benedict’s, made things even harder. He’d left just when he was solidifying friendships – Busiso didn’t know a single person in his new high school. “To add to it, when I came here, I skipped a grade.  So I was a year younger than everyone.”  There was only one other Zimbabwean there, who was a year older than him.   He was surrounded entirely by South African students, all older than him.  It was painfully obvious that he was an outsider, and there were many times that Busiso didn’t feel like he belonged anywhere.

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Busiso as a high school student

 

New school, new curriculum, new environment, new country – Busiso had to adjust quickly to his new life.  “It was a bit intimidating, I felt a bit out of place.”  Eventually, he found his footing, and it was thanks to his adopted city.  “Thing is, there’s a lot of people you can meet when you’re in a place like Joburg.  It’s not the friendliest place, but you’re definitely guaranteed to make friends.”  Although there were moments in the beginning where he wanted more than anything to go home, his father encouraged him to tough it out. Now, looking back at those growing pains, Busiso’s come out of stronger, wiser, and more well-rounded.

 “I WAS STILL IN THAT COCOON THAT  ZIM PUT ME IN”

 Having experienced life in both South Africa and Zimbabwe, Busiso has to come to appreciate the similarities and differences between the two countries.  “It’s a lot more liberal here(South Africa)”, he says, in comparison to conservative Zimbabwe.  For him, people in South Africa are more open and expressive, something that took him by surprise when he first arrived.  “I was still in that little cocoon that Zim put me in, where I don’t question my elders.” It was only after the big move did Busiso start to question what was previously unquestionable, and open his mind to new ideas and ways of thinking.

                                                

Busiso goes back to Zimbabwe on a regular basis. Here he is at last year's Colour Run. Image sourced from Liyon Media

Busiso goes back to Zimbabwe on a regular basis. Here he is at last year’s Colour Run. Image sourced from Liyon Media

Fast forward to 2015, and Busiso is fully settled into life in South Africa.  He is currently in his second year at Rhodes University studying law.  “One thing that I’ve always been hardheaded.  I like being right”, a smile on his face, as he explains his degree choice.  “Having knowledge of the law is power.”  Ever since Grade 10, Busiso knew was sure of himself, what he wanted to study, and where to go.  Although the University of Pretoria was his original choice, he has no regrets about landing up in Grahamstown.  “It (Rhodes) produces a certain type of person that I’d want to be like.”   It was an added bonus that Rhodes is known for its Zimbabwean-friendly atmosphere, with Zimbabwean students making up a large percentage of the international students.

                              “IT WAS NICE TO BE ABLE TO DROP A ‘ZVIRI SEI SEI'”

Happy to be amongst fellow Zimbabweans, being able to speak and hear his own language, was a big change from Busiso’s high school experience.  He’s learnt to reconcile the boy he was when he left Zimbabwe, and the man he became in South Africa.  However, he has, and always will be a Zimbabwean.  “Growing up there (Zimbabwe), as a child, really made me Zimbabwean.”  Busiso’s heart will always be with his country, and even though he wants to start his career in South Africa, he has every intention of going back home and making a difference.  “One thing I want to do is take what I’ve learnt back home.  If every educated person is leaving Zim, how are we going to grow?”

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Tanya: Poetry as her Medicine

“You caught me at the perfect time!”  The relentless ring of the incoming Skype call had woken her up, the sky still dark in Rome, where she’s celebrating the new year.  Rome, New York, Montreal, Switzerland: Tanya’s had a life that, on the surface, seems to have strutted off the pages of a magazine.  For her though, the glamour of the West was nothing more than a bitter illusion.  “I hate Europe and North America.  It’s like a prison.”

   “IT WAS A VERY TRAUMATIC TIME FOR ME”

Tanya is settled now, but life post-Zimbabwe initially was riddled with hurdles.  Uprooted in 2005, she left her friends, her school, and her home for Switzerland – a country radically different from what she was used to.  “There’s nothing cool about being in a place where you are the minority”, Tanya says.  ‘Minority’ in this case is putting it lightly: in 2007, African immigrants only made up 0.09% of Switzerland’s population, most of whom were from the Maghreb.  In Tanya’s graduation class, there were only 2 black girls in a class of 350 students.  There were no black boys.

“I WAS THIS LITTLE ZIMBABWEAN GIRL IN THE MIDST OF THESE CLOSED-OFF   COMMUNITIES”

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Another speedbump was integration into the Swiss education system, a system radically different from Zimbabwe’s.  Tanya had to learn French before she could start going to school, and even when she finally got into the classroom, she struggled to keep up, failing maths in her first year at high school.  Her frustration grew with each passing year because of the “structural violence” of Swiss education, which Tanya believes discourages immigrant children from going to high school.  “I had amazing teachers who always pushed me.  A lot of my friends didn’t have the same opportunity.”

“WHEN YOU’RE CONSCIOUS OF THE WORLD AT A YOUNG AGE, IT MAKES YOU AWARE”

Living in a world far removed from the home she knew, and alienated from Zimbabwean culture, there was pressure to shed her identity and adopt a Europe-friendly personality.  However, Tanya never felt inferior because of her heritage or the colour of her skin.  “The whole thing of being Zimbabwean, we have pro-black embedded in our culture. I didn’t come (to Switzerland) with racial insecurity.” She pushed herself through high school, and as soon as she graduated, Tanya swapped Switzerland for Canada, a place where she feels far more at home.  “Every black person in Montreal knows each other.” Tanya’s regained the sense of community that she lost during her time in Switzerland, and now she’s set to finish her degree in Sociology.

 “I DIDN’T COME TO SWITZERLAND WITH RACIAL INSECURITY”

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Tanya shares her experiences through poetry and music under the moniker Pusha T.  She intends to pursue a Masters degree in Community Development, coupled with a tour of the African continent.  She’s already started saving for the trip, with plans to link up with friends in Cameroon, Sierra Leone and South Africa.  “I need to be back in Africa.  I can’t even speak Shona!” She laughs, calling her parents ‘masalad’ because they don’t speak Shona around the house.  French and English are now the go-to languages at Tanya’s home, her native language another casualty of her alienation from Zimbabwe.

“You have to have a plan,” Tanya says, her drive for life and social change jumping through the shaky Internet connection.  It’s the mantra of every young Zimbabwean trying to get ahead, and for Tanya, she’s taking her country and her continent along for the ride.

   Praying
endlessly praying
for those who love me
thanking the heavens for your grace
for creating a space where I can be,
Freely
Unapologetically.
I am praying
for your peace
for your comfort
for your serenity
for your compassion
for your empathy.
Sincerely,
Pusha T

(Kween of Hearts @sucolorfavorito)

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