Importance of comprehensive sexuality education for Africa’s young people

UNAIDS

A message of support for the ESA Commitment from Professor Mbulelo Dyasi, Vice Chair, Board of Directors, INERELA+, delivered at ICASA 2021

As religious leaders, we have a trusting relationship between us and our congregations. As beholders of God’s truth and a belief system based on faith, our relationships with our congregants and communities are based on a strong basis of belief and as custodians of good values. This provides us with a platform to advocate and motivate for the betterment of our people from a faith perspective while we can also work together with our congregations in finding solutions to the challenges they face in their environments.

Today, we are in a situation where our nation and our continent are at the right place to advance in areas of economics, infrastructure and human resources. This is because we have young populations who are fast growing up to be productive citizens. These young people need direction and guidance to be able to make good decision, have positive family lives and be good citizens. And as religious leaders we play an important role in providing this guidance. Parents in our congregations know their role in providing this guidance. And we live in a modern society with modern education and health systems, so we need teachers, social workers and health workers to also provide this guidance. Each has a role to play in improving society.

We trust a government that acts in our best interests. Since 2000, the South African Government has been providing our children with the education and guidance they need. This education, called Life Orientation/Life Skills, where sexuality education is embedded, complements the values and direction that we provide as religious leaders through our sermons and that parents provide at home. We have to make sure that our children can negotiate issues of sexuality and relationships from a position of knowledge and power, rather than a position of ignorance and fear. From a position of truth and science, rather than a position of misinformation and helplessness.

There are those who try to spread fear and disinformation, creating panic and claiming to be the guardians of family values. The truth is that many of us who are believers, who are parents, who are teachers, are united on human dignity. And sexuality education promotes human dignity. Because sexuality education ensures that our children learn to treat each other with respect and dignity from an early age. It ensures that our children learn to think about what is right and safe for them, and how to avoid coercion, sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and early and unintended pregnancies. It helps to keep our children safe from abuse by teaching them about their bodies.

Young Africans must have the facts and confidence to stay safe and healthy, live a dignified life and contribute positively to their community and countries. They must trust us, their elders, to tell them the truth. Therefore, as religious leaders we pledge our support today to the ESA Commitment, which seeks to enhance efforts in ensuring the health and well-being of our children and young people. We commit to work with our governments to accelerate action towards realizing the agreed upon targets so that in 2030 we can all see the vision of an AIDS-free generation.

As religious leaders we hereby endorse the ESA Commitment towards 2030 aiming to ensure that we close the gap of comprehensive knowledge of our young people to protect themselves from new HIV infections, early and unintended pregnancies and gender-based violence and early child marriages. We promise to engage with our constituencies to create an enabling environment for adolescents and young people to access sexual and reproductive health services and use our platforms to empower parents to be able to talk with their children on issues affecting their health and well-being. With the challenge of COVID-19, we also commit ourselves to work together with our communities in finding innovative ways to ensure access to information and essential services during times of crisis. Working together we will surely win the fight against HIV and other pandemics.

Thank you!

Professor Mbulelo Dyasi, Vice Chair, Board of Directors, INERELA+

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