Every year in developing regions, an estimated 21 million girls aged 15-19 become pregnant, and complications during pregnancy/childbirth are the leading cause of death for this age group globally. Almost 4 million girls aged 15-19 undergo unsafe abortions and 12 million girls under age 18 are married annually. About 20% of girls around the world experience sexual abuse.
Provision of information and education, including sexuality education, is an important intervention to promote adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights. This session aims to unpack this idea further. Representatives from Rutgers, UNESCO, Polish Doctors for Women, Women Deliver and World YWCA will debate the motion: “Provision of information and education is sufficient to enable adolescents to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives.”
- An efficient comprehensive sexual education (CSE) must be based on science.
- Education and information are necessary, but they are insufficient on their own.
- Creating an enabling environment and a meaningful engagement by young people are vital.
- Building bridges between the education and health sectors is essential for teenagers.
Every year in developing regions, an estimated 21 million girls aged 15 to 19 become pregnant. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for this age group globally. Almost 4 million girls aged 15 to 19 undergo unsafe abortions, and 12 million girls of under 18 years get married. About 20 % of girls around the world experience sexual abuse.
These sobering statistics about adolescent health are often swept under the carpet, which explains why life is difficult for so many girls around the world and why it is so important to find a collective way forward.
These girls and young women need access to education and information to help them make informed decisions to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV, unintended pregnancies, and child marriages. School is an effective way of reaching youngsters, and the international community has made various commitments to invest more in education and to provide comprehensive sexual education (CSE).
The issue, however, is how to translate the knowledge acquired in CSE into practice, because of structural barriers such as poverty or the availability of condoms. It was pointed out that if young people are to be told to use condoms, they must be supplied with them. It was agreed that even though education brings significant benefits (fewer sexual partners, more use of condoms and other forms of contraception, a later start in sexual activity), it must be accompanied by efficient social and health services.
Education should not only be provided to teenage girls. Social service officials and teachers also need to be educated to resolve the growing problem of misinformation. There is an education programme in Poland, where abortion policy is one of the strictest in the western world and contraception is on prescription only. But it is not “comprehensive” and reinforces gender stereotypes. Poland is the perfect example that education is not all. It is important to take a step back and look at the legislation and the cultural context as well before evaluating whether a sexual education policy is effective.
Although ideally CSE should go hand in hand with services, even on its own a good CSE can do wonders. It helps build life skills in young people, allowing them to make the right decisions, take control of their body, and teach them about their rights. Even if not comprehensive, offering some basic information has been shown to reduce anxiety among young girls.
For these reasons sexuality, as well as ideas and behaviours surrounding it need to be discussed before young people start a sex life. In practice, many challenges are ahead, ranging from enhancing teachers' skills to countering opposition from parents and communities. Social media as a provider of accurate and false information also needs to be taken into account, and demonstrates that the guidance of trained teachers is more important than ever.
A global UNICEF study showed that 40 % of girls around the world think it is all right for their partner to hit them if they do not want to have sex. This perception is higher than among adult women. Much also needs to be done for young people with disabilities, who tend to be considered as asexual. The ideal CSE should also not be disease-focused, and should include pleasure and living to the full and not be restricted to avoiding disease and pregnancy. All of this will take time.