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 » Towards gender-responsive schools for better health and well-being
23.05.2017 - Education Sector

Towards gender-responsive schools for better health and well-being

@ UNESCO/J. Herat

Healthy learners learn better, and better-educated learners have better health. However, recent evidence shows that for this maxim to be true, schools need to be gender-responsive and recognise the particular needs and barriers of both boys and girls, to realise their right to health and to education.

Yet, this issue is still insufficiently addressed in most countries and was the basis for discussion at the recent UNESCO-convened Inter-Agency Task Team on Education and School Health in Lusaka, Zambia.

Why do we need gender-responsive education?

Whilst great strides have been made towards achieving gender parity in education, barriers for learners to stay in school and finish their education remain, and in many situations, these affect girls worse than they affect boys. Unsafe learning environments, lack of access to proper sanitation facilities, early pregnancy and gender-biased teaching approaches contribute to early dropout or lower academic achievement among certain learners.

As underscored by the 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report (GEMR), sexual and reproductive health, gender equality and human rights are interrelated. The report notes also that comprehensive sexuality education plays a critical role in promoting the health, well-being and development of young people. Furthermore, a 2015 Population Council study found that sexuality and HIV education programmes that address gender and power in relationships are five times more likely to be effective in reducing sexually transmitted infections and/or unintended pregnancy than programmes that do not.

Yet, according to the Global Review on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), issues of gender and rights are almost consistently absent or inadequately covered through current curricula across all regions of the globe.

Delivering high-quality gender-responsive education requires awareness of the gaps and the opportunities in programme implementation

Highlighting the relationship between education and young people’s health and well-being, is the mandate of the UNAIDS Inter-Agency Task Team (IATT) on Education and School Health. The annual symposium and members’ meeting was held 10-12 May 2017 in Lusaka, Zambia.

The symposium brought together more than 100 representatives of governments, civil society and development communities from the fields of education. The participants met to explore the gaps and opportunities in gender-responsive programmes as part of HIV and health education initiatives that are already being implemented, both locally and in the region.

The meeting included presentations and discussions on a range of inter-related issues including: early and unintended pregnancy, gender-based violence in school, comprehensive sexuality education, the needs of orphans and vulnerable children, and menstrual health management in schools. The focus on implementation of school health approaches was highlighted through a facilitated conversation with six stakeholders from within the Ministry of Education in Zambia: they spoke of the interrelated work of curriculum development, teacher training, examination and assessment required to implement a holistic approach.

Comprehensive sexuality education as a key element in implementing sustainable development programmes in African countries

One of the major objectives of the symposium was to identify the needs and the priorities for supporting governments to incorporate gender-responsive approaches into comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) and other HIV and health education programming. Examples of programmes and their implementation lessons discussed during the symposium had a particular, although not exclusive focus on Africa and the host country, Zambia.

The United Nations Resident Coordinator for Zambia, Ms Janet Rogan, said: “Zambia currently has the largest population of young people in its history, with 82% aged 35 and below, and 35% aged between 15 and 35. This growing youthful population in Zambia provides an opportunity to foster sustainable social and economic growth through rapid fertility decline and sustained investments in education, skill development, health, job creation and improved governance for young people”.

The outcomes of this meeting prove once again that health, education and sustainable development are closely interconnected and that advancing comprehensive sexuality education is a key element of building an equitable world for girls and boys.


·         Comprehensive Sexuality Education. A Global Review, 2015

·         International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education, 2009

·         Early and Unintended Pregnancy - recommendations for the education sector, 2017

·         Video on Comprehensive Sexuality Education, 2016

·         Education for Health and Well-Being website


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