UN event highlights country progress on sexuality education

UNESCO’s Assistant Director General, Education, Stefania Giannini, opened the exclusive preview event on the forthcoming global status report on comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). More and more countries are integrating sexuality education into school curricula, Ms Giannini said, recognizing its important role in achieving gender equality.

The 24 June event, hosted by UNESCO, together with UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women and WHO, spotlighted findings from The journey towards comprehensive sexuality education, A global status report. The report looks at how advanced countries are on their journey towards delivering school-based CSE, revealing that despite good progress in some countries, too many are failing to ensure children and young people have the knowledge and skills they need for good health and well-being.

Throughout the event, many countries reflected on their journey towards CSE, including Tunisia, Sweden, Namibia, Mexico, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Indonesia and Laos. Youth advocates for sexual and reproductive health and rights debated country progress on CSE, and representatives from UN and other multi-lateral agencies, governments, and civil society organizations looked at what needs to be done to ensure quality CSE is delivered well and reaches all children and young people.

Dr. Kilo Viviane Asheri, Secretary of State to the Ministry of Basic Education in Cameroon, recognized that concerns from parents and cultural practices can be a setback to the teaching of sexuality education. “But since we revised our curricula in the last two years, we have included the teaching of comprehensive sexuality education. We talk about violence against young girls, gender equality, genital mutilation for females. All of these topics are brought to the children,” she said.

The findings from the report show that 85% of 115 countries surveyed have policies or laws relating to sexuality education, however it doesn’t always mean it is comprehensive, or that children and young people are receiving it. Most countries report that they have curricula in place, but the breadth of topics needed to make sexuality education effective and relevant is lacking. Missing subjects include puberty, relationships, sexuality and consent.

Efforts to improve teacher training are evident in some countries, yet teachers say they lack confidence to deliver CSE. Meanwhile, a recent UNFPA study in the Asia-Pacific region found that only one in three 15-24 year olds said their school taught them about sexuality education well.

Anesu Mandenge, a social work student from Zimbabwe, said, “In my experience in secondary school, when things started to change in my life there were so many fears and anxieties, there was really no one there to really open up explain to us what to expect and what we needed to do as we grew up. As a consequence of lack of sexuality education, many young people are falling pregnant unintentionally. So at the end of the day, there is really a need to introduce sexuality education from an early age and right up to tertiary level.”