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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Will Education Alone Suffice?

In a not-so-small village in India, where people earn their livelihood by farming, education is booming. In the last decade, this village has seen the birth and development of a government school and several private schools. A couple of these are even elite ‘English medium’ schools.

The village has also seen the opening of a pre-university college. But to pursue any vocational or professional course afterwards, an individual must travel to the next town. With no frequent bus connectivity, this higher education remains a distant dream for many. But the people of the village are still ecstatic.

Their children can now say a few words in English. They can identify the English alphabet. They can – sometimes stutteringly – say a sentence in English too. Their children are educated – a word whose purpose and worth many of us fail to comprehend.

In a real-life scenario, each family enrolls their child/children in school dutifully. Fees are low, midday meals are provided and children are taken care of while the parents work in the fields as daily wage labourers. By the time the children are back, parents are back at home too.

When boys reach 5th or 6th standard, they drop out of school to work alongside their parents. Another breadwinner for the family is more important than learning English – which ‘they will never use anyway’.

The girl child, however, is sent to school to complete her education up to the 10th standard. Some progressive families will even allow their daughters to study up to the 12th. All because it increases their demand in marriage.

A boy educated up to 4th standard will work from the age of 9 till 24, manage to buy an acre of farm land with the joint earnings of his family, and then approach the family of a well-educated girl with a marriage proposal.

If all goes well, the proposal is accepted and a marriage is celebrated by the families. The daughter-in-law dutifully takes up her responsibility of cleaning the house, cooking three meals, tending to the cattle and bearing children – often before she herself is even 20 years old.

This is the story of young adults in most villages here.

Is there any need for change? Who is to blame? Does something have to be done, or is this something to be left alone?

Schools and colleges were, at some point, new to many living in villages across India. Yet most people accepted them with open arms. My question, though, is if this education does not translate into a good job and decent pay, is it of any use to poor farming communities?

Ensuring we don’t just stop with providing schools, but focus on creating livelihoods through relevant vocational training is a major need for our people.

Making opportunities for working and earning available to girls and boys equally is the responsibility of every government.

What use is a 12th standard education if a girl is unable to support herself financially? After all, financial independence is very closely linked to security and safety.

I believe that societies change and adapt to the opportunities presented to them. Law makers, influencers and policy makers must understand the needs of a population with a view to future growth, rather than simply providing dead-end educations!

A School Project to Remember

My name is Isobel Mathews. I am thirteen years old and I advocate for global women’s rights.

Earlier this year, my English teacher assigned a project that changed me. Every student was asked to research a women’s organization. After some initial browsing, I decided to do my project on Women for Women International (WfWI).

I picked a global organization partly because I grew up traveling. I was born in Australia and my family lived in the United Kingdom for six years before we moved to Massachusetts. Living in different countries gave me the chance to see and appreciate different cultures.

When I researched WfWI I saw that they work in eight different countries and in each of those countries they work with women who are marginalized by poverty, violence, or war. They have a one-year program that gives women vocational and business skills and teaches them about their rights and their health. WfWI’s program allows women to earn an income and stand on their own feet, which is incredibly important during and after war and conflict when people lose their livelihoods.

I have always been passionate about helping people and uplifting other women so the work that WfWI does grabbed my attention right away. 

After doing my research I gave a presentation in my class and I also spoke about WfWI at our school assembly. Now, I speak about the organization and about how we need to remember and work for women’s rights around the world in my community at any chance I get! I feel proud telling my relatives, my friends, and my teachers about the organization I have learnt about and I use it as an opportunity to say that we have a responsibility to reach out to women everywhere. It is not enough to focus on women’s rights here at home. Our rights and our struggles are connected. Women everywhere have had to fight hard for their rights, and progress in one country can help push for progress in another. We also have a responsibility to help each other. We need to come together and demand equality. Together, our voices are stronger.

It is especially important for us to use our voices to support women who are less fortunate than us. During my research, I learned about the tough decisions that women survivors of war must make. Many of them have to leave their homes in search of safety. Some of them have to choose between feeding their families or seeking education for their kids. To rebuild their lives, they need support systems. Everyone needs help. No one can do it all by themselves. And every one of us can do something to make it easier for others.

Some people might say that they don’t know how to help or they are too young, but I learned that you always have power. No matter where you are or what situation you are in, you can do something, even if it is small. You have a say and you can raise awareness. You have the power to make change, whether it is through a sign that you put in your yard, or a tweet that you send out, or a letter that you write to your legislator. You can also write about these issues on social media, or talk to your teachers, classmates and community. Even the little things can help. For example, I am urging my parents to sponsor a woman through WfWI’s program. For $35 a month any one can sponsor a woman survivor of war to participate in WfWI’s program and learn skills that will transform her life. Once you sponsor a woman, you can write her letters and learn about her progress throughout the vocational, business, health and rights trainings. It is one small way to create a big change.

 

Isobel Mathews is a seventh-grade student at Charles River School in Dover, Massachusetts. She’s a proud advocate for women’s rights and Women for Women International.

Encouraging Girls to Take on the World through Education Centres in India

Offering girls basic education is one sure way of giving them much greater power – of enabling them to make genuine choices over the kinds of lives they wish to lead.

This is not a luxury. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women establish it as a basic human right. So why is it that despite proving to be a blessing to society the girl child is – in the worst case scenario – killed in the womb, or otherwise allowed to breathe but only the air of negligence, discrimination and deprivation?

Today, we’re not only proud of great women of science like Sunita Williams, or women who’ve acted as agents of change like Sarojini Naidu, or  women who’ve taught us what it means to be human like Mother Teresa, but we also encourage such people to come forward and reform our world. Why is it that even though we claim to be the biggest democracy in the world we simply cannot destroy the deep-rooted stereotypes against women, and particularly women’s education?

Azad India Foundation was formed by an idea and the will to make lives of underprivileged girls better. We have set up our organisation in one of the least literate districts in Bihar -with a literacy rate of only 46% – to provide the people of this area with equal opportunities as the rest of the country. Through our work we’ve tried to touch the lives of as many girls as we can and to enable them to take on the world by themselves. We want them to be independent, able to break the constraints of society, and be themselves.

Through Azad India Foundation we spread a message of love, equality and empowerment. We realise that even today, little girls are denied an education, potential members of the female workforce are denied a job and employed women are denied recognition.

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Photo Credit: Azad India Foundation 

We seek to bring about change through our Girl Child Learning Centres. This program was started in 2010 with the support of IIMPACT Gurgaon under the guidance of Mrs Yuman Hussain. The focus of the program is to bring back non-schoolgoing girls and dropouts aged between 6-14 from the most remote villages in the district to the folds of education and it’s aim is to act as a bridge between nonformal educaton and government schooling.

We are currently working in over 35 villages in Kishanganj district with about 1050 girls. We provide primary education and health and hygiene classes to these girls and then we mainstream them to the formal schools. Our teaching is done through play-way methods and teachers use visual aids and teaching learning materials including bamboo sticks, small pebbles, cards, chart papers and pictures. The students also contribute to making the teaching learning materials and other crafts in the classroom.

We conduct regular competency level tests at our Learning Centers where the knowledge levels of the students are assessed through written and oral tests. This helps in assessing the weak students and giving them remedial classes.

The teachers are women from the same communities as the girls themselves. We decided to hire these women because only they can understand the hardships many of the girls they teach are going through. The teachers are given regular training sessions and are made to attend workshops at regular intervals for their own development. We now have a team of excellent teachers who are determined to provide quality education to these girls. After seeing the determination of the girls to learn we decided to open around 20 libraries with age appropriate books to provide them with more reading material. We want nothing to hold them back and have done everything in our capacity to bring a smile to their faces.

The force which drives us to make efforts to improve the lives of these girls? It is the happiness we see on their faces. Their success make us feel proud of being associated with them.