Ahead of the start of the new academic year, Home and Family Life Education (HFLE) teachers from at least five Caribbean countries met to discuss how parents can play an active role in the instruction of the Sexuality Education and Sexual Health component of the HFLE Curriculum. That was the main takeaway from a 2-day workshop hosted by St. Lucian-based, non-government organisation, Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) held in El Dorado City, Panama August 24- 25.

St. Lucian Journalist, Janeka Simon raising a point during Day 1 of the CAFRA workshop
Photo contributed by Journalist, Valesca Diaz of Extra Curacao.

Also present at the forum were HFLE curriculum officers from St. Lucia, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Curacao, and Haiti, as well as, representatives from media organisations across the region. The teachers explained that while the region has marked many accomplishments in the implementation of the HFLE curriculum in schools, one of the main challenges they contend with is the Caribbean society’s unwarranted and poorly-substantiated rejection of the Sexuality Education and Sexual Health component of the curriculum. This, they say, is deeply embedded in ignorance and fear.

What is Comprehensive Sexuality Education?

As such, CAFRA, in collaboration with the youth-led international movement, Right Here, Right Now, has been hosting several interventions to engage key public stakeholders in intensive training about the Sexuality Education and Sexuality health component of the HFLE curriculum to eradicate the misconceptions, identify and address gaps in the programme’s implementation in primary and secondary schools across the Caribbean.

Some participants at the workshop.
Photo contributed by Valesca Diaz of Extra Curacao.

According to a handout distributed by CAFRA, Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) “helps young people gain a positive view of sexuality, provides them with sexual health information and skill and encourages them to make sound decisions now and in the future…Sexuality education is a lifelong process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values. It includes sexual development, reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, intimacy, body image, and gender roles.”

And while formal sex education in schools is important, the teachers have noted that parents are the primary sexuality educators of their children.

Now parents’ inclusion in this learning process must be carefully managed to avoid passing along misinformation to young children about sex and sexuality.

The participants all agree that based on Caribbean culture and the personal histories of parents and other caregivers, “sex talk” with children is usually an uncomfortable exchange. One HFLE curriculum officer noted that her training of HFLE teachers included a session in which the teachers addressed some of their fears and insecurities about sex and sexuality. This process is also critical for parents and other information sources to include religious leaders and the media.

Group photo Op! with most participants at the CAFRA 2-day workshop on Sexuality Education.

One HFLE curriculum officer noted a case in which religious leaders in St. Lucia led a public campaign encouraging parents to burn copies of a particular HFLE resource book, that were issued to students in high schools in the country, simply because they disagreed with one topic covered in the resource book.

HFLE curriculum officers from other Caribbean countries also noted this challenge as they have had to delay the release of books and other resource materials for the students to avoid the unwarranted thwarting of their efforts by leaders of powerful social organisations who dislike aspects of the HFLE component.

The Media and Effective Sex Talk

A presentation by St. Lucian-based journalists, Sarah Peter and Janeka Simon reinforced the point that traditional media entities and entertainers should play a role in the transmission of effective and positive messages about sexual health and sexuality as research and anecdotal data continue to confirm their influence on Caribbean youth.

The two journalists urged their colleagues to familiarise themselves with journalism convention regarding the reporting of sex crimes, especially those involving children, to ensure victims and their family members are not re-victimized.

Another gap in the Caribbean media’s programming about sex and sexuality was identified in a case shared by HFLE representatives from Curacao. They described how a former beauty, a likely role model for young women in the Caribbean island, hosted a television show which promoted her escort service which aired at a time when young children would view TV programmes. When she was questioned about the content of the programme, her response was that she had to make money.

And while the television host’s shocking response seems to be rooted in ignorance and greed, it speaks to a wider challenge faced by Caribbean media that heavily relies on advertising revenue to sustain their operations.

Before the workshop session wrapped, Chairperson for CAFRA St. Lucia Chapter, Flavia Cherry said there are plans to host a series of training with media professionals to improve their reporting and presentation of stories about sexuality and sexual health.