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Breaking sex talk taboo in Kenya

A radio programme in Nairobi’s informal settlements discusses a topic many parents shy away from talking about with their teen children

Sex education has always been a touchy subject in Kenya and young people have had to ‘grope in the dark” or learn from experience. Teenagers are usually bombarded by conflicting and inaccurate information about sex from family members, religious and traditional leaders, peers, teachers, health workers and the media and they, therefore, have to determine the truth and the lies.

Pauline Barasa,14, from Kibera once faced this problem and she tried talking to her age mates, but none of them helped her because they all had a different versions of sex education. Since she didn’t want to engage in behavioursthat could land her in trouble, she approached her parents, who were ill at ease discussing the topic because they consider it a taboo.

Luckily, Association of Media Women in Kenya (Amwik) came to her rescue through a radio programme that unpacks sex education in a manner she can relate to. “Amwik was using Pamoja FM, a local radio station based in Kibera, to teach pupils about their Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR).

Every session takes close to an hour from 3:10 pm to 4:05 pm,she says. She explains that during the sessions topics discussed on air touched on love, sex and healthy relationships; self-esteem and understanding yourself and your rights as an adolescent, peer pressure, challenging misconceptions and making healthier decisions for the future.

One episode was dedicated to improving communication between young people and the significant adults in their lives. “The programmes were designed to deliver comprehensive sex education to young people, give them a forum in which to discuss sexual issues and help them to make informed choices, particularly in a region where HIV/Aids prevalence and pregnancy rates is high,” she adds.

Apart from listening sessions, the programme also involved participation in inter-school debates and dialogue forums to prove that the students understood what they were taught.

According to Bernard Ogi, Amwik Senior Programme officer , the aim of the programme, which was introduced in six schools, was to increase SRHR knowledge to young people aged 13-19 years in Kibera and Korogocho informal settlements so as to enable them make informed choices. “The subject matter is often considered taboo, but it can be life-saving – especially for women.

With the community radio, young people are getting the necessary information on early pregnancies, family planning, HIV/Aids and other issues, and they are talking about these things more openly,” he says. So far, a total of 300 pupils from across the 12 schools have directly benefitted from the dialogue forums and debates while over 500 have been reached indirectly.

“We have documented cases of students making better life choices and completing their basic education without either becoming pregnant or doing exams from home. Some have also been elected to leadership positions because of the leadership skills they have acquired from participating in Amwik project interventions,” said Ogi.

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