By Nothando Saungweme
In 2018, about a third of all new HIV infections in Zimbabwe were among those under the
age of 24. That is, 9000 women, and 4200 men. Conversely, only 42% of young women,
and 47% of young men have comprehensive knowledge about HIV. This immediately
highlights the need for comprehensive sex education for all young Zimbabweans.
However, when one attempts to meet this need, they almost immediately encounter a
roadblock: Zimbabwean culture.
Let me begin by stating outright, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with culture, and
what it represents. Culture is part of what makes, and keeps us, who we are as
Zimbabweans. However, it may be time to have the conversation on whether the
restrictions placed on speaking about sex, especially to those considered to be underage,
may be causing more damage than good. Sex, and all things related, are generally viewed
as taboo, and a young person taking an interest and asking about it, is usually met with
disapproval, and the immediate end to the conversation.
During a survey, many who had received their sex education at home stated that not only
was the conversation short and uncomfortable, it also left them with more questions than
answers. They also did not feel confident about their ability to make a good decision,
should they find themselves having to make decisions about sex. Questions were
immediately shut down, because many of those teaching the sex education believed that
a deeper conversation about sex should only be had just before marriage. Unfortunately,
this is no longer effective because those engaging in sex and related activities are doing
so at increasingly younger ages, with increasingly older partners. For example, in 2015,
17% of young women (aged 15-19) in Zimbabwe reported having had sex with a man 10
years older in the past 12 months.
Due to the fact that sex education is generally not happening in the home, it is now left to
the guidance and counselling teachers in schools, healthcare providers, churches, and
other organisations, to meet this need. These people and institutions are meant to
supplement education already received at home, but they are now given the burden of
doing all of the sex education. This poses another challenge: by the time most schools
introduce sex education, the students are already aware of the taboo that sex carries in
their communities. Consequently, students are less receptive and less willing to take part
in the conversation. This is compounded by the fact that most schools do not have a
designated guidance and counselling teacher, and the lessons are often left to whoever is
free at that time, or organisations that come in, usually once a year. The challenge with
leaving the sex education to the healthcare providers, whether at hospitals, clinics or
within communities, is that, as much as they are governed by laws, they still function and
exist in communities, and so the culture around sex still applies. Many young people are
afraid of being reported to their families for seeking information, treatment and
contraception, and so most decide to go without.
As a result, most young men and women, learn about sex from their peers, the internet,
pornographic material, TV and movies, and other similar sources. This is dangerous,
because when the information is received through these sources, the message is
incomplete. They receive all the exciting and interesting parts, while the more boring
aspects, like safety, and birth control are usually ignored. The results of which we now see
in the one in six young Zimbabweans who test positive for an STI, and the 17% of young
Zimbabwean women who are already mothers between the ages of 15 and 19. The young
people of Zimbabwe are vulnerable to everything from STIs, unplanned teenage
pregnancy, to being taken advantage of, and comprehensive sex education is one of the
key ways that we can address these problems.
In conclusion, the need for sex education is there, and it is obvious. It is also obvious that
the protection from sex that our culture seeks to provide, seems to be doing more harm
than good. And because of that, the question on how we can change the cultural
narrative, to ensure that every young Zimbabwean receives some level of sex education,
is a crucial one, and it is one that we as IMUNZI attempt to answer through our work.
1. Taylor & Francis. 2021. Zimbabwean Secondary School Guidance And Counseling
Teachers Teaching Sexuality Education In The HIV And AIDS Education Curriculum.
[online] Available at: <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/
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2. Guttmacher Institute. 2021. Sexual And Reproductive Health Needs Of Adolescents In
Zimbabwe. [online] Available at: <https://www.guttmacher.org/report/sexual-andreproductive-
health-needs-adolescents-zimbabwe#9> [Accessed 23 January 2021].
3. Avert. 2021. HIV And AIDS In Zimbabwe. [online] Available at: <https://www.avert.org/
4. Avert. 2021. One In Six Young Zimbabweans Test Positive For An STI Yet Only 3% Had
Symptoms. [online] Available at: <https://www.avert.org/news/one-six-youngzimbabweans-
test-positive-sti-yet-only-3-had-symptoms> [Accessed 25 January
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2019. [online] Gfmer.ch. Available at: <https://www.gfmer.ch/SRH-Course-2019/
6. Gudyanga E, de Lange N, Khau M. Zimbabwean secondary school Guidance and
Counseling teachers teaching sexuality education in the HIV and AIDS education
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