The world is ours, and we are responsible for its development.
By ’we’, I am referring to the young people of today who are separated by geography, but united by the issues, goals and perspectives that they share together.
One of the issues that I see to be of enormous importance for the sustainable development of this world, is the provision of sexuality education in a comprehensive manner. Indeed, provision of sexuality education is a cornerstone of every individual’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and although it may not seem like the most pressing issue faced by the world today, my work in the field of SRHR has shown that comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) should be seen as a priority.
One issue that is hugely tied up with comprehensive sexuality education is teenage pregnancy, where provision of CSE has been shown to hugely reduce the rate of early pregnancy, and this, in turn, has positive consequences for the lives of adolescent girls across the world. Such interventions are needed when we consider that, globally, 3 in 10 teen girls will get pregnant at least once before age 20. That’s nearly 750,000 teen pregnancies every year, where parenthood is the leading reason that teenage girls drop out of school. In fact, more than 50% of teen mothers never graduate from high school.
On a more local level, I am very familiar with the growing need for comprehensive sexuality education in Armenia. In my country, people working on SRHR face a huge amount of stigma from society.
‘Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights’ is a term that was created in order to provide people with a framework in which they could protect and defend their basic human rights. This is why education on SRHR should be included as a part of everyone’s education starting from school, so that they may feel empowered to stand up for these rights.
In Armenia, Article 5 of the RA Law on Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights which was adopted by the government in 1996, refers to adolescents’ right to receive sexuality education. Article 5.2 states that. ”Adolescents’ sexual education in secondary schools and in other educational institutions should be carried out by professionally trained persons in close cooperation with families, health services, non-governmental organizations and the public”. But in spite of these legislative measures, programmes for the sexuality education of adolescents are not being adequately implemented.
Armenia’s youth receive sexuality education through courses such as the so-called ‘Healthy Lifestyle’ module, which consists of 14 hours of classes that are taught in the 8th and 9th grades by teachers of Physical Education. These classes include information on sexually transmitted infections (STIs), hygiene and some limited information on SRHR. Then there are the Biology classes, where 8th grade students receive some information about sexuality education, however this is mainly anatomical. In other words, there is no module dedicated solely to the provision of CSE at schools. More problematic still, is the fact that the teachers responsible for classes like Healthy Lifestyle and Biology do not pay attention to students’ feedback, which results in a largely one-sided and unproductive response to the complexities of SRHR.
All of these inadequacies at school result in a growing habit among students to rely upon the internet in order to get information on issues related to SRHR, and here they may find unreliable information that encourages bad practices and puts their health at risk.
For all of these reasons and more besides, it is clear that the state’s provision of CSE in school settings is not enough to equip young people with the skills and knowledge they need to protect their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
So what can be done? How can we counteract the challenges posed to young people’s SRHR? What is our mission and where should we concentrate our efforts?
What we need is to focus on modifying the way that sexuality education is taught at schools, so that students, and teachers, will willingly participate and actually learn about their SRHR. The process should also include parents, who should be educated on how to discuss these issues with their children, and should maintain contact with teachers to provide feedback throughout the learning process.
This education should be ongoing and should be backed up by non-formal education, with support from the numerous non-governmental organizations that have SRHR in their action plans.
I am the Focal Point in charge of Y-PEER Armenia, a youth network which promotes SRHR by organising trainings and awareness raising on the subject. Our training sessions aim to increase the capacity of participants and make them into leaders for change in the field of SRHR. Recently, we have organized national trainings on leadership, global citizenship, project development, and advocacy and we have developed SRHR-related projects that will be implemented in 2018. One of these projects is focused on information sharing and professional development in the field of SRHR, and will be implemented in various rural villages in Armenia.
Y-PEER Training in Armenia
My work with my network has resulted in reducing the number of barriers preventing youth from accessing their sexual and reproductive health and rights in Armenia, however, my work in this field continues to motivate me to do what I can to effect real change and ensure SRHR for all. For this reason, I would like to sum up with some words of motivation, by encouraging you, the reader of this article, to go and research the concept of SRHR and find out about the facts (and the problems) that we face in this field. If you become interested in the process and would like to contribute, contact us and join our community!
The world is ours, and we will fight for it. We must work together to see the HEALTHY humanity that we long for and deserve.