Combating sexual violence and changing gender norms through comprehensive sexuality education

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In the United States and around the world, gaps in accurate and comprehensive sexuality education leave adolescents in the dark about their sexual health, rights and identity.

Comprehensive sexuality education is a vital component of sexual and reproductive health and rights. (Raychel mendez / Flickr)

In Bangladesh, the first time my mother heard of sex was on her wedding night. “This is something married women have to do in order to have children ”, it remembers being told in June 1990. Before this vague explanation, “sex” was a mystical and taboo subject.

When I attended high school in New York City from 2014-2017, my sex education teacher was also assistant principal. He called sex an “s-word” – as if the word itself was inappropriate for speaking out loud. The lack of quality sex education that I received in school, in addition to the cultural stigmas associated with sexuality, cultivated in me a sense of shame about my own body and my identity.

Although they happened over 24 years old and 7,000 miles apart, my mother’s experiences and my experiences with inadequate sex education are not unique. Currently in the United States, only 29 states and the District of Columbia require sex education to be taught in schools. Of these 29 states, only 13 states require that sex education be scientifically accurate and a state requires consent to be built into the curriculum. This lack of accurate and comprehensive sexuality education leaves adolescents in the dark about their sexual health, rights and identity.

Comprehensive sex education (CSE) is a vital component of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). SDSR is defined by the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights as “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to all aspects of sexuality and reproduction, and not just lack of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. ”

The CSE explores a wide variety of the subjects related to gender identity, health management, and sexual and reproductive autonomy. The information and skills provided by the CSE are essential to help all people, especially young people, form equitable relationships and be empowered over their sexual and reproductive health and well-being.

There is a compelling need to inclusion of CSE in SRHR programs in the United States and around the world. Sexual violence, mainly against women and girls, is one of the most widespread human rights violations in the world: One on three women and girls have suffered physical and / or sexual abuse. In the USA, 81 percent of women have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime. In Malawi, where the U.S. government funds SRHR-focused development programs, more than half of girls between 13 and 17 years old have undergone forced sexual initiation, which increases their risk of HIV / AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancy.

Conversations about sexuality shouldn’t just take place after cases of sexual violence; CSE can be used as a preventive measure against sexual assault by initiating conversations about SRHR, promoting sexual well-being and fight against sexual violence from the start. While CSE programs alone cannot combat the culture of rape, they strengthen our human rights to empowerment, teach young people that sexual violence is not acceptable, and provide young people with information on how to recognize and respond to sexual violence if it were to occur in the future.

The benefits of implementing CSE in international SRHR programs have been observed through various evidence-based interventions, such as the DREAMS partnership. The DREAMS partnership, supported by the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), conducts evidence-based HIV prevention and treatment programs for adolescent girls and young women in countries with high HIV incidence. The DREAMS core service package includes school-based HIV education through CSE, community mobilization, gender norm change programs, and education for grassroots violence prevention. a review of The data.

Data show that school-based HIV and violence prevention workshops that socialize equitable gender norms correlate with lower rates of STIs and unintended pregnancies. Data in DREAMS, community mobilization efforts have also been shown to engage boys in conversations about HIV, gender norms, sexuality, and navigational relationships that have influenced norm change and decreased violent perpetration.

Another notable feature of PEPFAR’s DREAMS program is that abstinence-only education is not used in their programming. A 2016 to study by Stanford University found that abstinence-only sex education had no effect on sexual behavior or reducing HIV infections. Abstinence-only education promotes gender stereotypes which places the burden of consent almost exclusively on women and girls, creating a culture of shame and blame that prevents young people from seeking help regarding their sexual health.

While federally funded global health programs like DREAMS eschew education focused solely on abstinence, this cannot be said for many states in the United States. 19 states in the United States require that only abstinence be taught in schools. Interestingly, among the states with the highest teenage birth rates, five are states that do not teach sex education or promote abstinence-only education: Arizona, Mississippi, Texas, Florida and Arkansas. Although some progress has been made in U.S. government-funded global health programs, legislation regarding ESC in several states in the United States remains extremely outdated and detrimental to the sexual and reproductive health and well-being of people across the board. United States.

The CSE provides the necessary tools for people to make informed decisions about their sexual well-being, develop healthy identities and defend themselves against gender-based violence. It is critical that we advocate for the U.S. government to include and expand accessible and culturally appropriate CSE programs, both nationally through federal and state law, and globally through development funding. international and programs that deal with SRHR.

During the Generation Equality Forum last July, organized by UN Women and progressive governments, several civil society organizations, including IPPFWHR, made a five-year funding commitment support quality and inclusive ESC in Latin America and the Caribbean. The engagement includes higher and vocational education programs in formal and non-formal settings, partnerships with local service providers, and increased access to sexual and reproductive health services. Along with the expansion of ESC globally, we need the U.S. government to commit to ESC in domestic and foreign health policies and programs.

A commitment to CSE across the United States and around the world should be included in the U.S. gender policy that is being developed by the White House Gender Policy Council, which is committed to promoting SRHR nationally and globally. Continued advocacy on this important issue is necessary to ensure the integration of quality ESC into all US and global health policies and programs to promote the sexual well-being of young people across the country and around the world.

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