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Tackling teenage pregnancies by teaching teachers

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8 November 2020 Tags: Alliances, Blog, Comprehensive sexuality, education, Yes I Do

We probably all remember our own first sexuality education lesson. At least I do! When I was 12 my male teacher told us that sex was actually about having respectful relationships. I remember feeling flabbergasted. Wasn’t it about (not) having sex and babies, and the birds and the bees?

In Zambia, many young and underaged pupils do not get taught sexuality education in school, nor by their families. As a consequence they are often expected to marry against their will. This affects their schooling, with many dropping out. This way the poverty trap repeats its devastating cycle from generation to generation.

As gender expert, over the years I have learned that my 8th grade teacher was right. In fact he was way ahead of his time. Of course sex education should give the facts about biology, pregnancy and condoms etc. But, thanks to research and movements like #MeToo, we have gradually become aware that we should also talk about how to develop respectful and fair relations between the different genders.

we have to first practice gender equality before we preach it to our students"
a CSE teacher in Zambia

Research shows that when teachers learn to talk freely in class about sexuality and gender, that the rate of unwanted pregnancies and infection with viruses like HIV is reduced five-fold.
Teachers of sexuality education need to be trained to be able to teach their pupils the knowledge and skills these students need to learn to realise what they like or not, what feels good or not, when to say no, how to say yes, and how to protect yourself from harm,

Through drama activities and role-play the teachers recognized that it is okay for girls to say no and to be strong and for boys to be caring and also show their emotions. This ‘gender bending’, as some might call it, has helped teachers to feel more positively towards gender equality. In fact our teachers told us that they now treat their own partners more equally, and are better able to understand and listen to the problems that students encounter. In the past they would send students who got pregnant home, but now they find ways to help.

Practice what you preach

In short the teachers became more empathic and gender equal themselves! Or as one teacher said; “we have to first practice gender equality before we preach it to our students”.

This is not an easy journey as norms around sexuality and gender are tricky and sticky things to change. However, on the upside, our work with teachers shows that if you invest in long term change processes that involve the whole school, teachers, government and care-givers, changing harmful gender norms for the better and keeping youngsters in school is definitely possible!

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