Sexual Health and Culture in Africa
African Federation for Sexual Health and Rights
The African Federation for Sexual Health and Rights (AFSHR) is hosting a conference entitled ‘Sexual Health and Culture in Africa’ from 19-22 September 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.
The purpose of the 5th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights is to catalyse dialogue on the interrelationship between, culture, sexuality and attainment of sexual health for all in Africa.
Culture in the broadest sense is learned behaviour of a people that are generally considered to be the tradition of that people. Thus culture of the people is exhibited in all spheres of living including governance and social development including sexuality. Whereas the definition of culture is varied, there are few commonalities that are embodied in most definitions. These include the following:
- Culture comprises of language, attitude, customs, beliefs, arts, institutions, ways of organising, symbols, objects, rituals, ways of living etc;
- It is non-genetically transmitted across generations by communication and imitation; and
- Cultural practices change over time thus culture is not static.
In Africa, there is an alliance between gerontocracy and patriarchy leading to the social exclusion of the young and women in the production and reproduction of culture. Thus culture is value-laden and it’s about power, intense contestation, (Christiansen Utas and Vigh, 2006) as well as hegemony, ideology and struggle for supremacy.
Societies are stratified according to age, power, property and status (Tumin 1985). This has very serious implications for the transmission of knowledge and practice of sexuality at societal and individual level. In Africa, culture has been identified as the culprit in the practice of female genital cuttings, forced early marriage, widowhood rites, wife inheritance, low status of women and the transmission of HIV especially amongst girls and women. Also, the culture of silence around sexuality has further hampered public discourse on the issues thus most discourses are from the epidemiological lens. However, there is a need to expand the discourse to include gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure and intimacy. The discourse must seek to inform and ensure that the sexual rights of all persons are respected, protected and fulfilled.
These rights include:
- The right to sexual freedom;
- The right to sexual autonomy, sexual integrity, and safety of the sexual body;
- The right to sexual privacy;
- The right to sexual equity;
- The right to sexual pleasure;
- The right to emotional sexual expression;
- The right to sexually associate freely;
- The right to make free and responsible reproductive choices;
- The right to sexual information based upon scientific inquiry;
- The right to comprehensive sexuality education;
- The right to sexual health care.
The Fifth African Conference on Sexual Health and Rights is convened by the African Federation for Sexual Health and Rights and organized by Egyptian Society for Sexual Health and Medicine. The conference was originally scheduled for February 9 - 12, 2012, however, the ongoing socio-political situation in North Africa necessitated a postponement (see press release announcing the postponement).
The conference will provide an opportunity to explore the roles of culture in the poor status of sexual health in Africa. It will also explore how to utilize positive attributes of culture in the promotion and maintenance of sexual health and rights through community reinforcing mechanisms. The goal of the conference is to advance knowledge, policy and practice in favour of safe, responsible, respectable and pleasurable sexuality in Africa.
The conference has the following objectives:
- To examine the contributions of culture to the present sexual health status of girls, boys, women and men;
- To highlight how existing human rights laws have already been used to challenge and reject interpretations of culture that seek to preserve harmful traditional practices, e.g. through litigation and advocacy; and
- To share knowledge in research and policy as well as best practices for programming on sexuality and sexual health.
The expected outcomes of the conference are:
- Conference technical papers and reports providing critical analysis on culture and sexuality, sexual health and rights;
- Dissemination of relevant international declarations, charters, treaties and covenants; and
- Enhanced skills on advocacy and programming on sexuality, sexual health and rights.
The conference is expected to be attended by policy makers, social scientists, health care experts, educationists, media, development activists, sexual health and rights advocates as well as practitioners including young persons.
For more information, refer to www.africasexuality.org.