Josh conducting an advocacy training

Member Blog: Challenging Social Norms and Speaking up for Young People in Ghana

This blog post was written by Youth Coalition member Joshua Quaye, a young sexual and reproductive health and rights advocate from Ghana. Joshua has been working on SRHR issues since 2012 when he joined Curious Minds Ghana.

It is a common phenomenon in our part of the world that very few African parents discuss sex or sexuality with their children.

Independently, these children and young people learn second-hand (and sometimes highly distorted information) from friends and online.

Growing up, I had countless questions about my body and sexuality. During adolescence I noticed some changes in my body, notable among them was the presence of pubic hair around my penis and armpits. I never discussed it with anyone; neither did I mention it to my parents, as sexuality was never discussed. If you dare, you might be deemed the ‘spoilt’ child.

A moment I remember well was when my friends and I were talking and joking about the ‘unmentionable’ penis. One of them intimated, “Did you know that if you don’t have sex and instead allow sperm to grow inside you, you will die?” As innocent as I was, fear gripped me. I quietly carried that uncertainty and misinformation with me for some time, wondering how I could release these sperm in order to live a long life – or perhaps have sex for the first time. Fortunately, this same issue was discussed again among my peers (in secret, we liked talking about sex) and one friend was able to dispel the myth.

Now, through Curious Minds Ghana and the advocacy trainings that we conduct, I am enlightened enough to know my left from right and most importantly, learn to make the right decisions for me. The friendly environment allows us to discuss issues of sexuality, speak openly about our feelings, and most importantly, it allows us to hold our government accountable to international treaties and agreements on sexual and reproductive rights.

Unfortunately, in Ghana, certain issues are still highly stigmatized and deemed evil. Religion and religious leaders have a lot of influence over society’s views on sexuality. LGBTIQ people and LGBTIQ rights are never discussed in public and are criminalized in many cases. In fact, the only time it is talked about is when an innocent soul is arrested and sent to prison for expressing their sexuality.

My passion for sexual and reproductive rights has driven me to read about sexuality and how we should embrace and respect the choices of others. Joining the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights has also taught me about the different perspectives and experiences of LGBTIQ young people.

One time, in my corporate office, a colleague was speaking about gays and lesbians and linked their sexuality to a lack of morality. Like wild fire, the discussion spread among my other colleagues, with seemingly everyone against me. The more I explained why I supported LGBTIQ people, the more they argued.

I quietly asked, “Would you kill or desert someone because he or she was gay? How will you ever understand the sexuality of your friend or children if you don’t discuss their sexuality with them?” My questions made them fumble. After work, one of my colleagues called me and apologized. She confessed that she has friends who are gay and that she supports them. At that point, I realized that some people will continue to play to the socially accepted norms, even while others suffer.

It is for this reason that I choose to lead and help shape discussions on sex and sexuality. It is about time we stood up against the harmful social norms that hurt so many. Until we open up the discussion, LGBTIQ people and young people will continue to suffer. We must start these conversations and hold our leaders accountable for the rights of these groups.