Sex Education is Everyone’s Right

Sex education is the teaching of knowledge and understanding of our bodies in their natural sexuality. It’s important for many reasons. Many privileged sectors of society have access to this knowledge and understanding, but in many parts of the world, it can’t be taken for granted.

There is a huge problem with sex education worldwide.

In the United States, a survey showed that of 1000 participants between 18 and 29 years, only 33% reported having had some sex education. In the United Kingdom, a similar poll proved that from the same number of participants, 16-17 years old, only 45% felt confident to define their sex education as ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, the adolescent pregnancy rate is 30%. Mexico has the highest rate of teen pregnancies among the 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Sex education simply means teaching young people to know how their bodies work and how to take care of them.

A sex education of quality provides us with the tools to respect our own bodies and the bodies of other people. It enables us to be conscious of the respect sexuality deserves, to prevent sickness, and to value the importance of open, shame-free dialogue.

Sex education should be part of every education. Sadly, many cultures still think that sex education is not a priority matter. Many people believe it shouldn’t be included in basic education because for them, talking about sex is a synonym for shame.

Consistent, high-quality sex education must not be only an option.

The importance of the subject goes beyond the individual. It matters deeply because a correct education can actually save lives. According to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), sex educations is:

“[…] teaching and learning aspects of sexuality. It aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to realize their health, well-being and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships…”

Sex education can:

  • Prevent sexually transmitted diseases
  • Provide knowledge of how to use contraceptive methods
  • Prevent unwanted pregnancies
  • Create understanding of the menstrual cycle
  • Reduce stigma and shame

A thorough sex education also gives young people an understanding of the boundaries of their body’s intimate space. This helps them to identify sexual abuse.

With the correct information, people are more able to make responsible decisions.

Sex education must be a right. It is about more than just sexual life. Education helps young people to take decisions about their bodies, health and lives in their own hands. This can, in turn, create a better lifestyle for all.

It’s important to visualize the body as the natural thing that it is. If parents and textbooks would teach about the naturality of our bodies, it would be easier for people to demand respect over their own.

In the world I envisage for the future, everyone will receive high quality sex education. They’ll understand what sex is about, and there won’t be more fear or taboo. No child, woman or man will be limited in speaking about sexuality as a personal and social priority.

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Family Planning Realities for Young People in Nepal

In many developing regions, young people still lack access to safe and effective family planning methods, for reasons ranging from lack of information or services to lack of support from their partners or communities. Young people are still being prevented from making informed autonomous decisions about their lives and their bodies.

Speaking from my own experience in Nepal, values about sexuality vary and are defined by culture and religion. One common barrier is social stigma, which discourages young people from openly discussing their needs and seeking the necessary interventions.

Nepal is one of the countries with fairly high adolescent fertility rates. Age at marriage is an especially important variable shaping fertility levels in Nepal, since it is a society where premarital sexual involvement is strongly disapproved of. The high rate of adolescent childbearing is a result of early age at marriage among women.

Nepal Demographic and Health Survey data reports some encouraging trends, such as the progressively increasing age at marriage over the past 15 years. However, there has not been a similar increase in the age at which adolescent girls begin childbearing.

In Nepal, the level of unmet need for family planning remains high.

Some adolescents cannot afford to pay for services, and even if they can, many fear that they’ll be required to provide parental consent before they can actually receive those services.

Young people have the right to make informed decisions about their lives. Integrating their perspectives and helping them overcome the social, legal and practical barriers they face is critical to achieving the goals of Family Planning 2020 (FP2020).

The Government of Nepal is committed to improving health outcomes in the country, and several policies and strategies have been put into place. The recent initiatives by government to provide family planning services through satellites and mobile clinics as well as community health volunteers is commendable to expand the reach of services in area of low accessibility.

Despite significant efforts, the idea of offering family planning services to young people is still not well accepted and easy to advocate for in Nepal. 

In advocating for young people’s rights to access family planning, factors such as age, religion, livelihood and education need to be taken into account. It is also true that young people are often more likely to seek information about reproductive health from informal sources.

Accordingly, to advance progress, information should be provided through media, peers and informal sectors. Peer education can be an effective in facilitating young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and influencing social norms. Providing adolescents with Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) has been shown to improve adolescent sexual reproductive health knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors when implemented well.

Adolescents and youth constitute a large section of the population in Nepal. Given its size and likely trajectory of growth in the future, this population warrants a focused policy attention, especially when it comes to education, health and population. Adolescents make up a high percentage of Nepal’s total population, and so policies and programs in family planning and reproductive health will have to be expanded to meet the needs of these groups.

For adolescent SRH programs to be effective, we need substantial efforts from the government along with the non-governmental organizations and the private sector. Unproductive approaches should be abandoned, proven approaches should be implemented. New approaches should be explored that better respond to adolescents’ needs.

We must commit to providing young people with the tools to take action in their communities and identifying funding opportunities for youth-led efforts.

As we continue to build the framework for Universal Health Coverage, we must ensure meaningful and sustainable youth engagement on family planning at all levels.

Women in Rural Zimbabwe are Being Left Behind

Being a young woman living in a rural or remote community can be very daunting. You have to fight tirelessly to loosen yourself from the grip of sociocultural stigmatization to have any sense of autonomy over your sexuality.

The situation is worsened by the absence of easy access to modern family planning methods. The problem lies in the fact that when coming up with sexual and reproductive interventions for women and adolescents, our governments still rely on ‘a one size fits all’ approach.

But women in rural areas have different lifestyles and challenges than women living in urban communities.

When it comes to sexual and reproductive health, one size fits all really makes no sense. One size fits all isn’t good enough.

In Zimbabwe, the fact that young women and adolescents in rural and remote communities are still struggling to access modern family planning methods – or even comprehensive sex education – is overlooked. These issues are still regarded as taboo, and in my community you can’t talk openly about them.

It’s a different scenario for women and adolescents in urban communities within Zimbabwe. In urban areas, it’s possible to access both information and services through youth friendly centres, Non Governmental Organisations and other diverse forums.

I believe that women can only enjoy their sexual and reproductive health and rights if they have access to relevant services and supplies – including access to contraceptives and accurate information on how to use them – regardless of geographical area or socioeconomic status.

The government of Zimbabwe is committed to ensuring improved availability of and access to quality integrated family planning services for all women irrespective of age, marital status and their geographical location by the year 2020.

A sizeable number of interventions have been made. For example, we now have an ambassador for Family Planning to advocate for family planning. This is a great initiative, but in rural areas this ambassador is not visible, and so issues are misrepresented! This type of intervention is relative – it primarily benefits the adolescents and young women in urban areas the brand ambassador is engaging with – which makes it an unfit approach for women collectively.

I believe that this kind of intervention leaves a lot of women behind. 

A large percentage of Zimbabwean women are in rural communities. Adolescents and young women in rural areas need interventions they can relate to – services that resonate with their particular reality and their existing level of understanding.

As much as there have been family planning and contraceptive outreach services, it is still absurd that in rural areas adolescents and young women continue to have unwanted pregnancies and new cases of HIV infections. The reason behind this is a lack of positive and affirmative approaches towards women’s sexuality.

From my experience in a rural area, the healthcare service providers are not youth friendly and they tend to have a negative perception of young women trying to access family planning. As a result, adolescents and young women shy away from these health centres as they don’t trust the service providers.

This is very disturbing, as trust should be one of the core values health service providers should strive to uphold at all times. I believe that it would be a great idea for genuinely youth friendly centres to be established in rural and remote areas. This would encourage adolescents and young women to seek out sexual education and feel comfortable asking questions about the family planning methods that will work best for them. It would also help conservative rural communities to recognize family planning as not only a priority, but also a right.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and adolescents in rural communities should be prioritized in Zimbabwe, and the government must be held accountable for delivering meaningful and diverse approaches in tackling the family planning challenges our country faces. Without this, achieving the FP2020 targets will not be possible.

If truth be told, rural women and adolescents have had enough of being left behind.

Join us LIVE at ICFP2018!

We’re excited to announce that Girls’ Globe will be part of the 2018 International Conference on Family Planning in Rwanda next week.

From Monday 12 – Thursday 15 November, we’ll join thousands of advocates, young people, political leaders, scientists, policymakers and researchers from within the global family planning community. And we want you to come with us!

If you are interested sexual and reproductive health and rights you can attend the conference from wherever you are in the world through the ICFP Hub, and by joining the Virtual Conference on Facebook.

You’re invited to join Girls’ Globe’s LIVE events and reporting!

There are loads of ways to engage with Girls’ Globe online during the conference and you can catch everything on our  ICFP2018 LIVE page. Here’s what you don’t want to miss next week – make sure to RSVP to each event and follow us @girlsglobe on Instagram, Twitter & Facebook.

Monday 12 November 

Welcome to #ICFP2018: The Girls’ Globe team on the ground in Kigali, Rwanda welcome you to the International Conference on Family Planning 2018. While we say hi to people arriving for the opening ceremony, we will start a conversation with you about expectations for this year’s conference. We will talk to you about the ways you can engage online during conference – and what you don’t want to miss this week! 

Tuesday 13 November

Family Planning Commitments for Young People: In this episode, we will highlight young people’s priorities in sexual and reproductive health and rights, and we will shine the spotlight on the family planning commitments being made for young people around the world. You will have the opportunity to interact and to ask your question and share your priorities in a live Q&A.

Wednesday 14 November 

Stories at the Heart of SRHR (in partnership with sayitforward.org): In this episode, we will highlight a more personal side of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and we’ll shine a spotlight on women’s stories of overcoming challenging norms, stigma and taboos in their work with family planning. You will have the opportunity to join this conversation LIVE by sharing your own story and connecting in solidarity as others around the world share theirs. 

Thursday 15 November 

A Global Movement of Action: In this episode, we will highlight the actions that people are taking around the world to advance family planning and sexual and reproductive health and rights. We will shine a spotlight on YOU and some of our partner organizations in the studio and discuss the actions they are taking in the next year, the needs that they have to advance their work, and the change that they want to see in 2020. You can join the conversation LIVE by adding your perspectives and inspiration in a livestreamed Q&A.

Providing family planning services to urban migrant workers in Bangladesh garment factories: In this segment, Girls’ Globe will interview Dr. Jewel Alam Azad of CARE to discuss access to quality sexual and reproductive health information and services for urban garment workers in Bangladesh. You’ll be able to join the conversation by asking your own questions to Dr. Jewel Alam Azad.

Join Girls’ Globe’s #ICFP2018 conversations by sharing your voice, your perspective and your story with us throughout the week. We’ll see you there! 

“A world of hope for adolescent girls” – Olive’s story

This is the fourth and final blog in a series sharing personal family planning stories from around the world – presented by CARE and Girls’ Globe in the lead up to the 2018 International Conference on Family Planning. Catch up on the whole series with stories from HawaParmila, and Oun Srey Leak.

Rwanda has made significant strides in empowering women and girls and ensuring they have access to affordable healthcare, including access to family planning.

Access to contraception has steadily increased from 17% in 2005 to 53% in 2015.

The government has decentralized and subsidized healthcare to ensure the most remote areas are reached and the most vulnerable communities can access services. However, the biggest unmet need for family planning is predominantly among young and unmarried women. In 2016 alone, 17,000 girls reportedly became pregnant before turning 18!

In 2016, the Government of Rwanda began providing comprehensive sexuality education in schools, however there is still a long way to go to ensure teachers are equipped with the skills and information needed to engage in age-appropriate, open and honest conversations with students.

I work for CARE in Rwanda, where I advocate for increased access to age-appropriate, integrated sexual and reproductive health services, rights, and education for in-school and out-of-school adolescent girls. Although the country has made notable progress in promoting women’s and girls’ rights in recent years, teenage pregnancies have continued to rise, leading to dire socio-economic and health consequences for Rwandan girls.

A few weeks ago, I attended an information session for young women in Kigali where a medical doctor explained available methods of contraception. I realised then that there is a lot young people do not know. But it made me wonder…

If the youth of Kigali don’t know how to prevent pregnancy or to take care of their sexual and reproductive health, what about women and girls who reside in rural areas where access to information and services is still a challenge – even a luxury?

In my time at CARE, I have seen the tremendous work the organisation is doing around the world to increase demand for sexual and reproductive health information and services, including contraception. Much of our work focuses on addressing underlying causes of poverty and vulnerability and helping communities to challenge harmful and negative socio-cultural norms that hinder women and girls from enjoying their rights and reaching their development potential.

Two weeks ago, I met a group of adolescent girls in Karongi District, Western Rwanda, where CARE is implementing the Better Environment for Education (BEE) project to increase chances of girls staying in school. During my visit, the girls talked to me about the various problems that they faced, including unwanted and early pregnancy. As I listened to their stories, I wondered whether we are doing enough to address these issues.

One particular 17-year-old stood out to me. As she narrated her story with teary eyes, she recalled the difficult time she went through when she found out she was pregnant, and described how she was abandoned by her family. She felt she had failed them and failed herself. At some point she was forced to quit school to raise her infant. But when the BEE project began, she decided to join one of the clubs and suddenly found hope. According to her, the clubs have provided a space and a voice for girls to talk and to get accurate and comprehensive sexuality education.

Although the local health centre is just a few metres away from the school and provides condoms and other contraceptive methods, young people in Karongi told me they feel judged and shamed when they go there to seek services that they are entitled to. The BEE project aims to address this as well by giving adolescent girls a platform to dialogue with the school administration and local leaders to express their needs.

Studies have shown adolescents are increasingly becoming sexually active before they turn 18 and this is a reality we should not ignore. Too often, in countries like Rwanda, adolescent girls do not have information regarding their changing bodies or sexuality in general.

Adolescent pregnancy undermines a girl’s ability to exercise her rights to education, health, and autonomy. It’s not only a health issue, but a human rights and development one too. 

I believe that CARE’s integrated approach to empowering adolescent girls, including economic empowerment through savings clubs, sexuality education, addressing gender-based violence and engaging power holders such as parents, boys, school administration officers, and local leaders is powerful in ensuring the problem is addressed from all sides. I have no doubt that this will bring about transformation in the lives of girls and their communities.

We have no more time to lose.

“Now I Use Contraception” – Oun Srey Leak’s Story

This is the third blog in a 4-part series sharing personal family planning stories from around the world – presented by CARE and Girls’ Globe in the lead up to the 2018 International Conference on Family Planning. Catch up on the whole series with stories from HawaParmila, and Olive.

Oun Srey Leak, a 26-year-old mother of one, navigates her way to work on a crowded street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She has worked in the Gladpeer garment factory for five years.

The garment industry is a huge part of Cambodia’s economy, employing over 700,000 workers. About 90% of these workers are women.

Srey Leak, like many of her colleagues, moved to Phnom Penh from a less populous area of Cambodia in search of job opportunities. She met her husband and shortly after became pregnant with their daughter.

Photo by GMB Films

“After I got married, I heard using contraception could stop us from being able to have children in the future. So, that’s why I decided to have a child soon after I got married. Two months after the wedding, I got pregnant,” Srey Leak explained.

Although half of female garment workers report being sexually active, less than a third of them use modern contraceptives.

Just as soon as Srey Leak became a new mom, she was faced with the demand to return to the garment factory. “After the birth, I needed to get back to work. So, I took my daughter to my mother back in the province. I am now far away from my child because I don’t have time to take care of her.”

Srey Leak’s story is not atypical. Most Cambodian garment factories operate six days a week, eight hours a day, and workers are often paid based on the outputs they produce, rather than the time they put in. Taking time off to go to the doctor may cost them more income than they can afford to lose, and there are limited health providers and pharmacies operating on Sundays when the factories are closed.

For the past five years, CARE has been working in garment factories to help women like Srey Leak make healthy decisions. Chat! is a package of activities that reaches women inside factories, where they spend most of their time. The innovative package includes sessions providing information on various sexual and reproductive health topics.

Srey Leak welcomed the opportunity to take control of her health. “One day, CARE came to invite workers to join a short training. They showed me short films about understanding the different types of contraception, safe abortion, and the ways in which we can avoid unplanned pregnancies.”

The sessions are paired with videos that feature fictional characters, in which the women can relate to and identify real health challenges. There is also an app that provides interactive quizzes and activities that are tailored specifically for garment workers, to facilitate ongoing learning.

After she learnt about the various modern contraceptive methods available to her, Srey Leak decided to start using oral contraceptives.

“I now take the contraceptive pill every day. If I’d known about this method before, I could have used it before falling pregnant,” she shared. “For me, after I joined CARE’s training, it changed my life. Now I use contraception and I have a greater understanding. So, it means I can have enough money for my next child.”

Chat! is supported by the Australian government’s Partnering to Save Lives (PSL) initiative and the Cambodian Ministry of Health in an alliance to reduce maternal and newborn mortality in Cambodia. Workers who participated are twice as likely to use modern family planning methods and health services. Factory managers have reported increased productivity and reduced absenteeism within their workers.

Learn more about CARE Cambodia’s garment factory work here, and read an interview with Chat! co-founders Maly Man and Julia Battle.