On a Monday afternoon at the Suame location of PPAG, we were surprised to learn that we would be giving a quick informational talk to students on Wednesday about how to prevent teenage pregnancy and unsafe abortions. My head spun. What were we supposed to talk about? How would the kids react? How much information were we allowed to give them? Why should three foreigners give such an important talk to kids? What if they misunderstand something we say? Why should we give it when none of us have any formal teaching experience?
I was extremely anxious about it to say the least. Kwabena, a member on PPAG’s Middle Zone Council and a teacher at the school we would present at, helped to fill us in on the situation and provided some reassurance. Because Kwabena and Grace (the treasurer of PPAG’s Middle Zone Council and a teacher) both teach at the school, the students had heard the information before. Kwabena said that he likes his students to hear it from new faces, to help the message sink in. This helped take some of the pressure off of us, as we knew that we were just helping to reinforce information and not teach it for the first time.
This didn’t make the challenge of actually constructing the talk much easier however. We were still given the sweeping generalization of “cover how to prevent unsafe abortions; you can also talk about preventing teen pregnancy.” We decided to cover the basics, with a focus on preventing teen pregnancy by use of contraceptives. We covered consent, options that a woman has when she learns that she has become pregnant, the downsides to early motherhood, how to access a safe abortion, when abortions are legal/illegal in Ghana, and contraceptives.
Our talk ended up changing from our original script during the presentation, with Kwabena stepping into to occasionally bridge either a language or a cultural gap. We quickly learned that the focus is largely on abstinence and condom use. We later learned from the Tech PPAG branch that most women don’t start to consider hormonal methods of birth control until they are older and often times married. It makes sense that condoms are pushed by the organization, with HIV and STIs being frequent reasons for individual’s arrival at PPAG. I do wish that younger women were given more information of other forms of birth control that they could use along with a condom.
The questions we got at the end from students surprised me in many ways. Some were very thoughtful, such as “when is the right time to have sex?” Others showed the lack of knowledge about what an abortion entails (a problem in the U.S. as well), with “how does the baby get out of the woman during an abortion?” Others hurt my heart, such as when one of the younger girl asked for how to prevent rape, or when another asked what to do if a boy is pressuring her. We answered using our own knowledge of sexual health and Kwabena assisted.
With the questions from the students and our feedback from Wednesday’s presentation from Kwabena and Grace, we set about revising our talk for Friday’s two presentations, one to a group of boys and the other to another all-girl group. We changed the beginning section to focus more on what consent means, how to obtain consent, and how to decide when to have sex. Per the feedback, we also focused more on waiting to have sex (though we all cringed at teaching abstinence) and condoms, though we still mentioned hormonal birth control like the pill, injections, implant, and IUD. I was taken aback by the focus on abstinence, as in the US studies have shown that abstinence-focused sexual education isn’t effective. However, with the consent laws here in Ghana, paired with a high teenage pregnancy rate (14% of the population), I understand how a school teacher such as Kwabena or Grace would want their students to steer clear of sex altogether if possible, if not actually plausible.
Despite our disappointment at the surprising focus on abstinence, we were pleasantly surprised by Kwabena and Grace’s support for understanding consent. I really appreciated Kwabena’s insistence on empowering girls, even if the empowerment looked very different than what we might be used to. There was a lot of emphasis on saying no to sex, followed by discussion of consent. Cultural norms in courtship slightly complicate consent here. Often, women are taught to say no to the advances of men early on, so that the man must continue to court her. For the girls in the class, this makes the concept of “no means no” difficult to fully understand, as “no” can sometimes mean “try harder to woo me” here. Kwabena stepped in here to clarify. He gave the example of body language. With the flirtatious “no,” the woman is still smiling and juts her chest out as she raises her hands. Kwabena instructed the girls to say “no” firmly, with sternness communicated in both your facial expression and tone of voice. He taught them to then hold the arms in an “x” across their chests. While my personal beliefs and definition of consent differ dramatically from this version of consent,” I value that I got to see an instructor draw this line of distinction for his students.
I also appreciated Kwabena and Grace’s sternness with the boys in stressing that “no means no,” although I disagreed with some of the reasoning behind it. Under Ghanaian law, women 16 years of age or younger cannot legally give consent. This law does not apply for the boys. So if a boy, no matter how young he is, has “carnal knowledge” of a woman 16 or younger, he faces charges for “defilement” and a sentencing of 7-24 years in jail. These facts certainly got the boys attention, but I did not like that the emphasis was not getting in trouble, and less about actually communicating with your partner for consent. With our Friday presentation, we tried to stress to the boys that it is wrong to pressure a girl into having sex if she has told you “no.”
Giving the talk for the first time felt strange, and I’m still not sure I can fully explain why. Physically, it felt different from a presentation back home because, as Kwabena had instructed, we had to slow our speech down and talk with an inflection that is easier for Ghanaian’s to understand. But it felt unsettling mentally and emotionally as well, and I am still trying to fully understand why. I still don’t particularly feel comfortable with the fact that I have little qualifications for teaching within Ghanaian schools and yet gave our Sex-Ed talk to three different groups. I have wrestled with the fact that despite my lack of qualifications, I do in fact know a lot about sexual education and could answer the children’s questions. I also am not restricted by cultural norms and taboos surrounding talking about sex here, so I am able to give the information in a straightforward and direct way that many parents and even teachers here struggle with. With all of this in mind, I am still conflicted about how I feel about giving these Sex-Ed classes. At the end of the day, I hope students left with more knowledge about sexual health and that maybe I left a positive impact, but because of the brevity of our time here, I realize I am not able to fully see the impact of my actions.
You can find more information on PPAG and their mission on their website :