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08.10.2019 Feature Article

Hyper-Religious And Partisan Politics Of Sexual Education

Hyper-Religious And Partisan Politics Of Sexual Education

Precisely five years ago, around one winter day in early December, when my then eight-year old son confronted me with a “simple” question: “Dad, why do people have sex?” The question wasn't surprising at all in that its inevitability was a given; it was just a matter of time before any inquisitively curious child puts a question of this nature in the face of his/her parents/guardians in today's social media universe.

Here, the unsettling aspect of my son's question/curiosity was the earliness; the timing of it; the closeness; and why as a loving parent, l waited relatively longer for him to hear the concept connected with human “sexuality” from somewhere else before taking the time to explain patiently to him everything he ought to know about “sex” at the time he threw the “sexuality bomb” at that tender age. Like many loving but overprotective and culturally-conservative Ghanaian parent, millions of us are unreasonably in denial and will defend the “innocence” of our children up to the hilt without considering other significant sociopolitical factors that can help persuade us to accept the reality that many of our kids are not “angels” as we take them to be.

Recently, the “funny” Omanhene Kwabena Asante (one of my favorite media personnel) of the Adom FM lamently appealed to Ghanaians to stop the cultural attitudes that appear to encourage many of us to behave like “ostriches” amidst the unfolding contemporary realities here in Ghana or around the world. Whether we wallow in denial, pretend, believe or not believe; there are millions of children around the globe, including Ghana, who know or have heard — not from their parents — about the “mystery word” termed sex in this digital media culture. Unfortunately, there are many underage children today actively or have engaged in some form of intimate, sexual activities without their parents' knowledge. These are our normal school-going children who come home to us from school looking innocent

As a former teacher at the high/basic school level and currently for the past seven years as college professor in US, it is crystal clear from close observation and experience that many children know pretty much about the so-called sexuality, of which most of the awareness is self-taught and from peer-to-peer. This generation of children all over the world, know far more than their parents give them credit for.

Keep in mind the Internet/social media revolution is not under the exclusive control of the Western countries where the social media tech originated. So, in this context let's not make any flawed argument here that somehow the Western culture is different from Ghanaian culture; that makes American children's behaviors different from their Ghanaian counterparts. That is true, but we also need to realize that when it comes to the social media, the whole world shares one universal culture. The 21st century media is easily accessible in almost every modern society via tablets, phones, TVs, or computers, and the kids are not only vulnerable to the technology's enticing social urgings, but also our children are helplessly exposed to the media's manipulative capabilities.

Honestly, majority of Ghanaians are not realistic. The foregoing mindset obviously explains why many Ghanaians are used to demonizing almost every policy in the public arena, whether they're well informed about the issue or not. More often, out of naivety or through some worn-out suppositions such as our “rich Ghanaian culture” we reduce the most consequential public policy to superstition, religious assumptions, or politics as usual. A classic example is the current public discourse regarding the proposed Curriculum for Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) for the country's basic education. The CSE — if Ghanaians were to peel off all the layers of the needless emotions, the cultural rants, and apply reality-based public debates – is one of the forward-thinking policies of our generation.

But as usual, the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) has no any viable policy alternative but to resort to what the Mahama-hijacked party knows best: Embark on sustained propaganda to block the gullible Ghanaians and some media outlets from thinking critically about the CSE. So in their incompetent and cynical ways, the NDC presidential aspirant and his crew are having a field day with the CSE, misleading the people that the world is about to come to an abrupt end, if the present government were to introduce CSE in our basic school system. Another reality to the current unfolding drama is, reasonable Ghanaians need to understand this NDC under Mr. Mahama, has no credible message for the nation except that “we told you Nana Akufo-Addo can't solve all the country's mess within four years' time, so give back the power to us.”

Also sad to note is that some prominent personalities and other non-governmental bodies that should have unemotionally contextualized our fast-changing world that is propelled by an all-intrusive information superhighway technology, are rather playing their comfortably default card(s): religion, moral, or culture, to the detriment of the general wellbeing of our leaders of tomorrow.

Still, a good number of Ghanaians do not have full grasps of the realities of our time, judging from their simplistic reasoning for why the proposed CES isn't appropriate for the nation's basic schools. Rather than have “adult” and matured conversations about the CSE, many Ghanaians are blaming some foreign nations for attempting to impose their lifestyles on our “angels” Ghanaian children, ignoring the fact that the 21st century culture is far different from the 20th century's.

Surely, the contention among some Ghanaians that any sexuality awareness education should be placed at the doorsteps of the parents alone has some merits to some extent. But the problem here is, for many of us who understand the dynamics of “political socialization,” families/parents are not the only factors that influence and shape our belief systems, personal values, or sociopolitical beliefs. Certainly, political socialization—which social or political scientists explain as the multiplex process via which people come to have their values, lifetime beliefs — is not only controlled by our parents but more so by our schools, media, religion, environment, gender orientation, life experience, age, and perhaps tribal/race factors.

Let our brothers and sisters in our beloved Ghana get this simple but deep-seated reality: There is a reason Africa with all its immense potentials seems to be at the lowest point concerning the socioeconomic development ladder among all the continents. This is because millions of Africans and their policymakers, like in Ghana, are not realists who look at the world as it is and adopt accordingly. We cling on steadfastly to some age-old cultural values as if culture is not a learned process which can be unlearned.

It is why creative policy like the CSE is under near ignorant and disdainful assault as Ghanaians engage in some ultra-religious and hyper-partisan public debate about how “sacrosanct” our culture or society is. Meanwhile, within some families somewhere, a child or some children may be watching some porn pictures/videos on their tablets, phones, computers, by themselves or with their peers on the blind sides of their parents; this applies to me, too, as Christian but realist parent with two underage children (below age 18). Believe this or not, countries that have truly developed and modernized their economies are led by leaders with realist bent, no matter their religious or atheist beliefs.

Bernard Asubonteng is a US-based writer and a Ph.D. student in public/foreign policy.

By Bernard Asubonteng

Bernard Asubonteng
Bernard Asubonteng, © 2019

This author has authored 161 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: BernardAsubonteng

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