By youth sexual and reproductive health advocates, Ruben Avila, Director Sin Control Parental and SheDecides Young Leader, Mexico, Amanda Filipsson, CSE-Educator and Board Member at from the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU Malmö), Sweden, Ana (Anuki) Mosiashvili, International Coordinator of Advocacy and Partnership at Y-PEER Network, Muhammad Rey Dwi Pangestu, Project Manager, Rutgers WPF Indonesia and Anesu Mandenge, Social Work student, Zimbabwe
This week, five agencies of the United Nations confirmed that despite some progress around the world, most countries are failing to provide children and young people with quality and sustainable sexuality education. This news is a reminder of the urgent need for life-changing and potentially life-saving education, said the UNESCO Assistant-Director General for Education, Stefania Giannini.
We agree. For many, it is a matter of life and death. Among girls aged 15-19, there are 10 million early and unintended pregnancies a year, 3 million unsafe abortions, and maternal conditions are the top cause of death. Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) can prevent this. Young people from all countries and all regions have been standing up and saying this for years.
We are not only calling for CSE because it can save our lives, although it does; but because it helps us make deliberate, respectful and well-informed decisions about our health, sexuality and relationships.
CSE is a holistic, age-appropriate, multidimensional learning process that takes place over many years. It builds personal and social competencies, like critical thinking, risk assessment, problem solving and the ability to consider multiple perspectives.
Investing in CSE is investing in us, in children and young people. We can maximize our education potential by eliminating the confusion around menstruation and contraception, and by eliminating social factors that challenge our well-being, like discrimination, violence and child marriage.
Yet while many countries say they have policies and laws relating to sexuality education, good curricula and teacher support, it does not always translate to young people like us getting the sexuality education we need.
CSE policy is worth little to nothing without practical implementation and delivery – without budgets, planning and monitoring. Genuinely comprehensive relationships and sexuality education provides young people with the tools to truly understand themselves, the world and the people within it. If governments are truly committed to the protection of human rights and to their commitments under regional, national and international agreements, they need to ensure their legal and regulatory implementation of CSE is being fully realized in the classroom.
At the same time, CSE delivery is worth little to nothing without quality training for primary, secondary, and tertiary teachers – with skills to teach diverse topics using participatory methods and a learner-centred approach.
Teachers have the power to decide what information to share or hide from their students. We urge teachers to reflect on their own puberty experience, to try to walk in our shoes, and to not let their personal values hinder the comprehensive value of CSE. We also want more male teachers to engage in implementation as our female teachers do, to become champions and to bring their perspective to the table.
We believe young people need to be meaningfully engaged in the process of creating and designing sexuality education curriculum – because so many of the topics and realities that affect us today are being left behind. We need to learn about safe abortions, the intersection of sexuality and technology, and issues affecting young people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. These are important topics, and if they are not included, the opportunity to positively impact well-being and development is lost.
Access is another critically important issue, and this has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic when millions of children were out of school. Not all of us have people we can talk to, or even the internet, to help us learn about puberty, menstrual health, relationships or sex. We must find creative ways to reach people who face these difficulties.
Ensuring access to quality CSE in practice must be prioritized globally if we are ever to see a future where young people can truly thrive, where we live free of confusion, discrimination, violence and aggression. We know there have been advances, and that many countries are making significant efforts to deliver CSE with support from civil society and young people, but overall, we are lagging behind. Young people are not fulfilling their right to sexuality education.
One of the most challenging things for us as young advocates is the lack of a respectful dialogue. It’s like we are working in a reactionary space and opposition is coming with heavy and strategic actions, leveraging power in decision-making processes. It is important that all key stakeholders support us in recognizing the positive impact that CSE has for children and young people.
We all understand that literacy and numeracy are incredibly important, and this should form the basis of our education. School these days, however, needs to go beyond that. It has to prepare us for the challenges of youth and the transition to adulthood.
We stand up and urge you to listen to us. We, as young people, have a key role to play here. We can partner with governments and other stakeholders to ensure no child or young person experiences the negative consequences that come with the lack, or even absence, of evidence-based, positive information and education about sexuality.
The journey towards comprehensive sexuality education: global status report (ENG) Summary (ENG) (FR) (SP)
UNESCO together with the GEM Report is currently developing a series of PEER country profiles (Profiles Enhancing Education Reviews) focusing on country-level progress towards comprehensive sexuality education for release next year.