UNESCO hosts workshop on Comprehensive Sexuality Education for Learners with Disabilities

UNESCO Regional Office held a virtual workshop on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) for learners with disabilities in Eastern and Southern Africa from 25-27 August 2021. The workshop brought together experts on CSE, Disability and Inclusive Education such as Humanity and Inclusion, Leonard Cheshire and the South African Medical Research Council.

More than 100 participants joined the workshop including young persons living with disabilities and representatives from UN agencies, Organisations for Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) and other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working in collaboration with UNESCO to address the needs of young persons with disabilities regarding CSE and adolescent sexual reproductive health (ASRH) . To ensure increased engagement and feedback on country specific challenges in relation to CSE and learners with disabilities, the workshop included group work, question and answer sessions in addition to the presentations.

The main objective of the workshop was to share knowledge and build consensus on provision of CSE and SRH services for young people with disabilities, reflecting on the key challenges faced by young persons with disabilities such as discrimination, prejudice and stigma.

Opening the workshop, Mrs T.Thabela, Zimbabwe’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education acknowledged all stakeholders involved in advocating for the provision of CSE to young persons with disabilities. She strongly emphasized the need to collaborate with different organisations to overcome the challenge of lack of access to education services, which has increased due to the COVID -19 pandemic, and to come up with special tools that foster inclusion even when learners are out of school.

From the discussions, a number of key challenges and barriers that affect young persons with disabilities’ access to CSE were highlighted. These include communication and attitudinal barriers as well as physical barriers.

Isalonica Mubaiwa a female student at Danhiko Secondary school , highlighted discrimination as one of the main challenges being faced by young persons with disabilities in schools.

Maria Zuurmond from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who was the lead researcher on a UNESCO commissioned needs assessment on CSE for learners with disabilities presented the findings from the study and highlighted the importance of inclusive education the ESA region. Maria Bakaroudis, the UNFPA Comprehensive Sexuality Education Specialist and Disability Focal Point presented on global data that shows the discrimination that young people with disabilities face  in accessing SRH services.

Alessandra Aresu from Humanity and Inclusion, highlighted that the rights and needs of both young persons with or without disabilities are the same and that learners with disabilities have rights to education, and to make decisions that affect them. In addition, young persons with disabilities are not a homogenous group. In as much as young persons with disabilities might have similar needs, there is need to recognize diversity amongst and between disabilities.

Participants shared opinions on possible initiatives to foster inclusion and effective delivery of CSE to young persons with disabilities. Some of these initiatives include, teacher training, community sensitization and collaboration with Ministries of Education and other CSOs to enhance total inclusion of learners with disabilities in accessing CSE.

The workshop provided an opportunity for young persons with disabilities to share their challenges such as lack of inclusivity, bullying and stigmatisation. These challenges often result in the young people with disabilities dropping out of mainstream schools. The young people pointed out the need to change the script from viewing persons with disabilities as vulnerable to one where learners with disabilities are seen as people who understand their abilities and should be involved in discussions promoting inclusivity and support towards universal designs in school environments that are inclusive and accommodate learners with disabilities.

Mr Rodrick Mbalanza, a young person from University Teaching Hospital Special School in Zambia who has Cerebral Palsy cited the need for young learners with disabilities to be included in mainstream school.  He said there is need for fair treatment and emphatically put it that “Children are born in different ways and we all deserve to be loved and cared for”.

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