Breaking Gender, Sex and Sexuality Borders: The Case of Comprehensive Sexuality Education in South Africa

*Please note this seminar has a maximum capacity of 100 participants*

Thabo Msibi is Associate Professor in Curriculum Studies in the School of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he is also the Dean and Head of the School of Education.

Professor Msibi’s scholarship is on the interface of gender and sexuality issues, particularly as they relate to education. He also is interested in theory building as it relates to African sexualities. He has published research in South African and international journals on these subjects, and has co-edited six journal special issues.

Thabo has also published numerous book chapters looking at the educational experiences of individuals who claim same-sex identities. His recent monograph entitled Hidden Sexualities of South African Teachers: Black Male Educators and Same-sex Desire is published by Routledge.

This seminar reflects on the public uproar that has come with the expansion of the comprehensive sexuality education programme by the Department of Basic Education in South Africa.

Touted globally by the UNESCO and other international organisations as a critical vehicle for the promotion of positive sexual behaviour amongst young people, comprehensive sexuality education has recently received significant international fanfare. This focus follows the release of the revised International technical guidance on sexuality education by UNESCO in 2018. Some African countries, including South Africa, have used the revisions to update their curriculum offerings on sexuality education.

Section nine of the South African Constitution, known as the Equality Clause, explicitly provides protections against unfair discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.

It was through this constitutional guarantee that the country sought to revise its comprehensive curriculum offering, leading to significant backlash from the traditional, religious and conservative organisations. Front-page media articles screamed that the Minister of Education was trying to teach young children about how to have sex, and that she was effectively sexualising young children. The Ministry was also accused of imposing a Western ideals on African people.

The seminar will analyse the transnational and local reasons for the conservative backlash in South Africa. It will argue that the response largely follows a coordinated international movement that has sought to undermine sexuality education and reverse the gains already made by sexual rights organisations. It will showcase how local sexual politics reflect a transnational mobility of ideas that are reconfigured at a local level in order to attain legitimacy.