Research shows that starting sex education at a young age can decrease the number of gender-based violence cases and teenage pregnancies. (Oupa Nkosi)
The Tears Foundation has launched a safe, easily-accessible and informative tech-enabled application called Speak Up,to promote sex education, which remains an elusive and contentious subject in many schools.
There is a shocking lack of sex education available for young people, said Mara Glennie, chief executive of the non-profit organisation that specialises in helping survivors of rape and sexual abuse. Although the material is provided to teachers for the life orientation syllabus, it is among a variety of topics they can choose from.
“With the many taboos still surrounding sex, most teachers shy away from the topic. It’s not addressed by the parents and guardians either, leaving youth without the critical knowledge they need on topics like consent and sexual health,” Glennie said.
To bridge this gap the foundation, in conjunction with the department of basic education, has teamed up with insurer 1st for Women and the Industrial Development Corporation.
Tears believes that Speak Up will provide young people with sex education on their cell phones and assist users in making informed decisions about their sexual health.
“Speak Up is a true breakthrough for sex education in South Africa,” head of 1st for Women Seugnette van Wyngaard said
“Through a series of short, interactive and animated videos, with subtitles, in case the user needs to watch the video in private, we hope to break the taboos with accurate and relevant information so that the youth are able to make conscious, healthy and responsible choices about relationships and sexuality.
“The first set of videos covers topics including: consent, rape, pregnancy, depression, grooming, HIV/STIs [sexually transmitted infections] and contraception.”
Glennie said a study last year found that 10% of rape cases reported nationally stemmed from higher education institutions.
“If the youth are properly educated from an early age,with tools like Speak Up, we would hope to see a decrease in these numbers by providing them with the relevant information,” she said.
Speak Up also aims to address teenage pregnancies.
“Watching a young, underage child turn into a mother is heart-breaking. Children need to be children, not birthing them. It is particularly devastating to learn that many of the girls who gave birth last year were barely teenagers,” Glennie said.
Speak Up is an extension of the foundation’s existing tool – a free, national 24-hour, seven-day unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) helpline (*134*7355#) that provides survivors of sexual abuse with emergency assistance, through a free call-back option and contact information for their closest crisis centres.
“It is our hope that Speak Up will challenge the youth to think critically about gender and about their role within their culture, community and society at large,” Glennie said.
“While the information is mostly aimed at young people and youth-led and youth-serving organisations, we hope that it will also be useful to other organisations, volunteers and activists who want to begin or strengthen advocacy around improving sexual education across the world.”