Harare, the so-called Sunshine City, is a place with many faces. Zimbabwe’s capital and largest city, Harare is a city full of poverty and ostentation, of inequality and privilege, of creativity and old thinking, new and broken industries, and the ever restless energy. Continue reading →
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 →
Student activism in Zimbabwe is not a new phenomenon. Starting during the Second Chimurenga, student activism continued after the Independence, with student protests of note in the 1990s and early 2000s.
By nature, universities encourage young bright minds to see the realities of their society. As a student, you are being prepared to enter the wide world, and you’re told to go out there and make a change, to serve the greater good, to be the difference. That impetus to make your mark, coupled with the tenacity of youth, means that students have created their own form of activism, a mix of protest action and intellectual debate, which pushes for immediate change while laying foundation for long-lasting reform.
Heroes Day is upon us once again. A day meant to honour the men and women who died fighting for an independent Zimbabwe, it serves as one of the reminders of a long and painful liberation struggle.
I hear stories of young men and women, still in school uniforms, leaving their institutions of learning to run into the bushes and pick up arms. Of ordinary citizens, teachers and nurses and farmers, who sheltered guerrilla fighters on the run from Rhodesian forces. Of those who crossed the border into foreign countries to train and learn. The image of Heroes Acre comes to mind, the statue of three soldiers standing in proud defiance, weapons and flag in hand, ready to give it all to free their people.
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.
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:
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/