Sex education: Why are our teen girls still being shamed?
Girls keep hearing at school about how they need to say no to sex or bear the consequences (alone and in shame). What if the girls don't have a choice? What if they make a mistake? What about the boys and consequences? And what says the law?
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That it’s possible, in 2017, for a school camp leader to show 14- and 15-year-old learners a brazenly manipulative pro-life video and then to instruct the girls to “hou jou koekie toe” is depressing. That not one of the educators who were present intervened on the learners’ behalf to stop this happening is outrageous.

The incident demonstrated how depressingly easy it is for someone to inflict conservative rhetoric on a captive audience – our children. Where were the advocates of reproductive rights in that discussion? Can educators really place any nonsense in front of their learners and present it as fact?

Law is law: our daughters have reproductive rights

Whatever your views on the topic of reproductive rights, South African law is clear. The Choice on Pregnancy Termination Act[1] was passed in 1996 and it entitles minors who are up to 12 weeks pregnant to terminate their pregnancy without the consent of their parents.

But of course, life is messier than the law. What happens in reality is that, because of the stigma of teenage pregnancy, pregnant girls are victimised at some abortion clinics by the very staff whose legal duty it is to assist them. A 2009 Department of Basic Education report[2] cites a variety of studies that found that some clinic staff treated girls harshly and breached confidentiality because they viewed both teenage pregnancy and pregnancy termination as shameful.

What they're taught at school

If this is happening in our clinics, it’s easy to imagine that attitude finding its way into the classroom. Read this telling statement from the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, in her foreword to the 2009 report: "Although abortion is recognised as morally and religiously objectionable, young women in South Africa apply a 'relative morality' to justify decisions about abortion."

Read that statement again: Motshekga herself reveals her bias by using the word “recognised”. In her world, we all hold the same view: abortion is objectionable. What chance do learners have of being impartially informed by their educators if the Minister of Basic Education makes a statement like this?

The CAPS National Curriculum Statement for LO for grades 7 to 9 stipulates what educators should cover in their lessons. In the first term of Grade 9, on the topic of sexual behaviour and sexual health, educators should cover inter alia, "protective factors and where to find help and support", as well as "adverse consequences and implications of teenage pregnancy".

Which is sufficiently vague for educators to opt to omit the topic of pregnancy termination altogether. The Grade 9 LO textbook excludes the word "abortion" and nowhere is the term "pregnancy termination" mentioned. Reproductive rights aren’t discussed at all. What is hammered home throughout the chapter is that a girl who falls pregnant will have the baby and both she and the baby will suffer adverse consequences.

Teach both pro-life and pro-choice arguments and give all legal options

Views on this topic are divided along moral, cultural and religious lines. Nevertheless, educators’ beliefs should not be allowed to override the necessity to represent the topic accurately, including both pro-life and pro-choice arguments. The Grade 9 LO textbook itself states, at the beginning of the chapter on sexual behaviour and sexual health that "it is always best to be well informed so that you can make important decisions confidently." Where, then, was the balanced discussion at this school camp, ensuring learners were "well informed" so they could make these important decisions?

Motshekga says that "much more needs to be done to make services accessible and acceptable to young people. In the most basic form, young people and important decision makers in their lives – older women and young men, in particular, lack basic information about the [Choice on Pregnancy Termination] Act and its specifications."

It would be great if that statement would translate to unbiased discussion in our classrooms. There are no doubt scores of educators who work to ensure that this happens, but it’s also depressingly easy to imagine that this incident is just one example of many in classrooms around the country.

Motshekga is right: Much more needs to be done.

Do you agree that many schools and health clinics are failing our girls by shaming them instead of informing them? Do you have some experience in sex education at school? What do you think about boys' responsibilities? Share your stories and comments by writing to us as chatback@parent24.com. You may remain anonymous, please remember to tell us if that's the case. 

* All views expressed are that of the columnist and not necessarily that of Parent24.com.

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