Realizing young people’s SRHR through Comprehensive Sexuality Education

On the second day of the 19th International Dialogue, delegates enjoyed an interactive panel discussion on the importance of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in ensuring that young people can realize their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). The session started with inputs from three expert speakers:

Diene Keita, Deputy Executive Director for Programmes, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Diene Keita Deputy Executive Director for Programmes, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Ulukbek Batyrgaliev, Youth Board Member, International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF)

Ulukbek Batyrgaliev Youth Board Member, International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF)

Julius Natangwe Nghifikwa, Deputy-Director for HIV and School Health Programme Ministry of Education, Arts & Culture, Namibia

Julius Natangwe Nghifikwa Deputy-Director for HIV and School Health Programme Ministry of Education, Arts & Culture, Namibia

Delegates were then invited to join a virtual ‘fishbowl’ discussion which featured the three speakers on the panel plus contributions by any delegate who wanted to share their opinion or ask questions.

CSE is key to improving young people’s access to SRHR services

CSE is essential to enhance young people’s sexual and reproductive wellbeing and to improve their access to SRHR services. If implemented early on, it gives young people the opportunity to learn about their health, rights and about a positive approach to their body and sexuality. CSE is a means to empower them to make informed choices and to develop respectful and pleasurable social and sexual relationships. The “fishbowl discussion” addressed challenges, opportunities and the way forward in ensuring young people’s access to quality CSE. Diene Keita from UNFPA said that CSE’s importance cannot be overstated and that “it enables life-impacting decisions to be made in an informed and empowered way”, if provided in a timely and appropriate manner. One of the greatest challenges for CSE is the strong and growing opposition that exists on the community, national as well as international level. It is hence crucial to consistently make people and governments aware that delivering CSE is essential for young people.

Including all the stakeholders in the conversation

The acceptance of CSE is to a large extent dictated by societal norms, given their crucial role in determining what is acceptable. Julius Natangwe Nghifikwa, Deputy-Director for HIV and School Health Programme at the Ministry of Education, Arts & Culture in Namibia raised the issue that politicians, community leaders, parents, teachers and health professionals must be made aware of the importance of CSE for adolescents and be included in the conversation. He said his government’s efforts to raise awareness for the importance of CSE amongst a variety of community representatives met with “a lot of resistance” at first, but that over time “in-roads were made and effective programs were developed”.

Peer education

Panelists agreed that the value of peer education and information exchange is just as crucial as learning from well-trained teachers. It is often the case that young people feel more comfortable talking about issues regarding their sexuality with their peers rather than with adults – so it is vital to create a safe space for fostering peer exchange.

Making the most of online technologies

There are various ways how information and education on sexuality can be transmitted. For instance, the ‘fishbowl’ participants identified digital solutions as central to the future rollout of CSE, especially in the middle of a global pandemic. Ulukbek Batyrgaliev from IPPF described how young people are “making the most of online find new ways of interacting”. He said the online delivery of information could help reach a wider range of young people from different backgrounds and at an appropriate time – for example, through social media apps that are popular amongst adolescents. Yet, despite the benefits of using social media, not everyone has access to the internet so information sources such as newspapers, television and radio must also remain in the mix of media outreach.

The better the data, the better the program

Strong research-based evidence is needed for winning allies and for convincing policy makers, community leaders and parents that CSE is crucial. The amount and quality of evidence proving the benefits of CSE must increase in order to support advocacy strategies. Ulukbek Batyrgaliev from IPPF added that proper resourcing and monitoring of the implementation of CSE are vital, “so that we can tell how many young people are being reached!” In order to ensure the implementation of effective CSE programmes, Diene Keita from UNFPA also stressed the urgency to strengthen the evidence base. This data can then be used to identify the gaps and help nations plan accordingly.