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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Can we Stop Teenage Pregnancy in Mexico?

If you have ever walked the streets of Mexico, you’ve probably stumbled upon a young girl holding two children while asking for money. This is a pretty common situation, though not one exclusive to the less privileged – teenage pregnancy in Mexico knows no social class.

Mexico has the highest teen pregnancy rate of OECD countries. 32.7 million girls are currently mothers, and 6 out of 10 of those conceived around age 14 as a result of either sexual violence or a lack of access to contraceptives. So what seems to be the problem?

I believe that the problem in Mexico resides primarily in the deep-rooted conservatism that leads to inadequate sex education. Schools and families must implement initiatives so that the consequences of unprotected sex are discussed out in the open. Schools must have qualified personnel available to address these matters with young people from a healthcare perspective.

What happens, though, to those who cannot access a school that can afford to implement quality sex education? Or to girls who don’t even attend school at all, and instead sell gum on the streets?

Poor sex education combined with ambiguous abortion legislation and extreme poverty generate a devastating outcome for our teenage girls. Even though there are many initiatives designed to address teen pregnancy, clearly there is a lot more to do. Not only do we have the highest teen pregnancy rate, according to the United Nations Population Fund, Latin America is the only region in the world with an ascending trend in teenage pregnancy.

There is another side of the coin and teenage pregnancy can sometimes, of course, be planned and wanted. The Sexual and Reproductive Health Report generated by the National Council of Population (CONAPO) reveals a statistic that shocked me: in 2014, half of pregnant women between the ages of 15 and 19 claimed theirs was a planned pregnancy, even though they were under 20 years old. So is teenage pregnancy still a problem in this particular situation?

In many small towns in Mexico, there aren’t real opportunities for young girls. In some places there isn’t even a middle school, and so without the possibility of education young girls can see becoming pregnant as the next step in their lives. On top of that, in some communities, women with children are perceived as more valuable than those without.

Another important factor to take into account is Mexico’s high rate of domestic violence. I believe this can affect the choices of young girls who live within troubled households as they want to create a family of their own where they can love and be loved.

Teenage pregnancy often results in unfinished education and this leads to limited job opportunities, and a snowball effect begins for girls, their families and whole communities. Pregnancy at an early age can also have a negative physical effect on the human body.

We must demand that our government allocates more funding to sexual and reproductive education, regardless of our own economic and social situation or whether it affects us directly or not. We need to contribute to a more equal society where our status as women is not determined by motherhood. Most importantly, Mexican parents need to stop being embarrassed addressing sex and contraception with their children, as it is fundamental that sexual education starts at home.

We must take care of our girls so their childhood and teenage years are not shadowed by unplanned motherhood.

Involving Men and Boys in Efforts to Achieve a #BetterLife4Girls

One may wonder why men and boys involvement in matters like teenage pregnancies and child marriages is important. Well, it is clearly because behind every teenage pregnancy or child marriage, there is a male involved.

In the wake of the movement to end child marriage and teenage pregnancy, young people, parents, religious, cultural  and community leaders have to be called to action. Because these are issues that affect girls directly, it is of peculiar interest how pivotal the male voice has to be to make sure that the plight of a better life for girls is heard.

The fight for gender equality remains incomplete without male involvement as we stated earlier this year here on Girls Globe and we won’t repeat the statistics.

One part of of our agenda, from our recently concluded community dialogues in the eastern part of Uganda on ending under-age marriages and teenage pregnancies by Reach A Hand, Uganda supported by UNFPA Uganda, was to capture voices of men and boys as a way to continue involving them in anti child marriage and teenage pregnancy advocacy efforts.

Men and boys from the three Eastern region districts of Mayuge, Butaleja and Iganga, where the dialogues were conducted, showed keen interest in the topics, voicing similar concerns when it came to the causes of child marriages and teenage pregnancies. These included parental negligence, poverty, radical religious practices, minimal law enforcement, child labor, peer groups, western influence among others.

Mr. Muyagu Benard, the cultural leaders’ representative in Butaleja district noted that parents have shunned their responsibilities. “Parents do not spare time for their children, while others are too busy talk about sex education with their children,” he said, before condemning some for still believing in gaining riches through marrying them off, even at tender ages.

Mr. Gidudu Emmanuel, Officer in Charge Criminal Intelligence Butaleja district, warned that child marriages and teenage pregnancies lead to fatal damages like obstetric fistula, and in extreme cases, loss of their lives. He explained that these young girls’ bodies have not matured enough to carry the baby, let alone deliver it. This could lead to torn body tissues, a lot of blood loss and the possibility of death. He added that these girls get pregnant when they don’t even have enough food to feed neither themselves nor their babies and some of the children end up dying of hunger. He called upon everyone in the district to fight for change.

The Khadhi (Islamic leader) of Butaleja district, Sheikh Hajji Swaib Hussein Mukama, highlighted the fact that this is an era where girls should be taken to school because they are the mothers and leaders of tomorrow. He urged parents and fathers in particular, to support their children under the umbrella of religion to avoid teenage pregnancies.

The men in Mayuge pledged to stop individualizing children and vowed to make them a community responsibility so that there is joint effort in taking care of the girls and fighting against teenage pregnancies and child marriages.

On the other hand the young men advised their sisters to stay in school, avoid moving alone at night which can lead to being exposed to risks like rape and defilement. They further implored them to abstain, use condoms when old enough to have sex and to stand up for their rights in cases where they are forced into child marriages.

One of the young men, Desmond Ali, the chairperson Uganda National Students Association (UNSA) in Iganga district mentioned how he has already started contributing to bettering girls’ lives, by carrying a pad wherever he goes incase any of his female classmates need assistance. He also pledged to include child marriages and teenage pregnancy as an item agenda during the Annual Iganga UNSA meeting in February yext year.

Men and boys are often untapped-yet critical- resource in the fight against issues affecting society, especially under-age and child marriages. By not engaging them, we are stirring the pot deeper. Placing them at the forefront of this agenda, will transform respect for women and girls.

Featured Image: International Youth Foundation

In the field with SEED Community

This is the last in a series of posts written by the SEED community chronicling their journey into the rural heartland of Limpopo, South Africa with 25 girls who are a part of the SEED program. The trip was a part of the urban/rural exchange filmed to capture the voice of young women of South Africa. The journey was documented through journal entries by SEED staff which have been published on Girls’ Globe over the past 5 weeks.

SEED2Day 8

We start early, as this afternoon the girls will be putting on their show. They get straight into their groups and continue to practice their performances. Our girls are nervous as they still feel a resistance from a number of the girls.

As 3 o’ clock draws near, the excitement of the performance seems to stir, even in the quietest of the girls. The groups come together and one by one give expression to the themes they have chosen. One girl stands to read her poem, her voice gaining force as the words resound throughout the room. She throws her paper aside and continues to repeat, ‘I will be heard; I will be heard’ almost with a preachers determination. The girls are noticeably moved and the rest of the performances bring forth a collective energy and spirit, leaving behind the fear that had upheld their silence.

‘I will be heard; I will be heard’

It is our last evening and we gather the SEED girls for an evening bonfire and barbecue. Sitting around the fire we all give our individual thoughts on the past eight days. This trip has not been without its challenges and everyone has been stretched emotionally, physically and mentally. For some, the different foods, and ways of living of their host families proved the greatest challenge. For others the barrier of language and lack of co-operation from some of the rural girls, posed the greatest frustration. However there is a collective feeling that the work holds enormous value and is not only needed in the rural communities but also in the townships.

Day 9

We are all packed and ready to go. There is one last interview with a girl called Johanna. She came forward yesterday to say she would like to tell her story. Johanna is 17 and holds her daughter of 2 years in her arms. She has a message to tell teenage girls who find themselves pregnant. She says, ‘Do not give up; stay at school; work hard and look forward to fulfilling your goals.’ She has 2 more years of school and as she preaches to those girls younger than her, one senses she is also preaching to herself, never to give up.

Our trip has come to an end but this is really just the beginning. Over the past eight days so many girls have come forward to share their stories, stories that not even their parents know about. These stories must be met, not only with a listening ear but also with the knowledge that we have a responsibility to provide a space for girls to continue to find support and acknowledgement. This is the task that lies before us.

 

In the field with SEED community

This is the fourth in a series of posts written by the SEED community chronicling their journey into the rural heartland of Limpopo, South Africa with 25 girls who are a part of the SEED program. The trip was a part of the urban/rural exchange filmed to capture the voice of young women of South Africa. The journey was documented through journal entries by SEED staff and each week Girls’ Globe is publishing a new entry. 

Day 6:

We all arrive at 8am and by 8:30 we have about 85 girls registered. There are girls from 3 villages all with a good grasp of English. Our girls are excited as they feel this is going to make it much easier to connect and have a meaningful 3 days. We start with ice-breakers and the game, ‘have you ever?’. They leave the more innocent questions behind and go straight to ‘Have you ever been to a tavern?’ and ‘Have you ever kissed a girl?’. As half the girls rise, we are surprised by their apparent openness.

By mid-morning the issues are being raised but our girls appear to be struggling. In contrast to their vocal participation in the games, there seems to be a general silence amongst the local girls. Those who speak up are laughed at by the other members of the group; making it very difficult to have an open discussion. It is going to take time to build trust and the confidence to exchange the challenges girls are facing.

Our team persists and working with the more vocal girls, manage to bring out the main issues. Once again teenage pregnancies, rape, substance abuse are high on the list. Interestingly witchcraft, peer pressure and jealousy are themes that run deep and are considered to be the cause for a girl failing at school and for being tempted into substance abuse. We realise there is a general fear to succeed, for to stand out puts you at the risk of a Witches spell or the mirth of your peers.

By 4pm transport arrives to take the girls back to their villages. It has been a challenging day and we all head back to our host families with an element of uncertainty as to whether the girls in the community are keen to exchange.

SEED

 Day 7:

A beautiful day dawns and by 9am we are gathered in the community hall. They divide up into the groups to explore the themes they have selected. There are teenage pregnancies, substance abuse, prostitution and sugar daddies and rape; as well as lack of resources, witchcraft and jealousy as excuses for failure. HIV is not mentioned although it is known to be rife in the community. There are girls in each group who are determined to express their opinions despite the laughter of some of their friends. Discussions open up and it becomes clear that sexuality is also a pressing issue for girls.

We spend the early afternoon with 6 girls in a very frank interview about lesbianism, bi-sexuality and how this has been met by the rest of the community. The girls are very confident about their sexuality despite the growing pressures they face. A few of the girls come from very religious backgrounds and have had to confront their own beliefs with their feelings, as homosexuality is not well respected by their communities. Among the township girls they are very aware that correctional rape is on the increase. They no longer feel safe to walk the streets for fear of attack.

As the afternoon draws to a close we head off with the crew to watch the sunset from a beautiful boulder perched at the top of a hill beside a granite mine. The vast expanse of the countryside opens before us. It is quiet aside from the distant sounds of children playing and the unmistakable beats of African music from the village nearby.

Girls Talk: A Documentary Film

As The International Day of the Girl approaches and the international community shifts attention to the unique challenges faced by girls around the world, The SEED Community asks: What does it mean to be a girl growing up in South Africa today?

Answers are offered through a documentary film that will follow the SEED girls on an intimate road trip into the rural heartland of Limpopo. It will capture the distinct voices of girls, both urban and rural, as they navigate the realities of their daily lives and share the hopes they have for the future. The film will put faces to the overwhelming statistics that threaten to suffocate the voices of girls in every community of our country.

Over two weeks, the SEED girls will engage with girls from 3 communities in a local to local exchange of knowledge and ideas, raising the issues girls face from an individual and communal perspective. The problems of teenage pregnancies, exposure to violence and the stigma of sexuality will be explored through dialogue, theatre, song, poetry and dance. Through these ‘expression platforms’ we will capture the rich,vibrant musical culture inherent in South Africa as the girls give expression to the realities of their lives.

The documentary film is an extension of our commitment to give girls a platform to share their voices, to share their stories, and to engage a wider audience through these girls’ voices. It is to send a clear message, that yes, there are deep rooted, tough issues that present every day challenges in every community – but if we don’t give girls a voice, if we don’t listen and let their spirits shine, how can these challenges ever be truly overcome?

For it is when we listen that we connect, and it is when we work together we that can bring forth positive change in people’s lives.

Click here to follow our journey.