Empowering Futures: Transforming Societies through Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Latin America and the Caribbean
By Feminitt Caribbean and IPPF ACRO
Co-authored by Valeria Marin (she/her), IPPF ACRO & Nyala Thompson Grunwald (she/her), Feminitt Caribbean
Growing bodies of research and evidence commissioned by UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations have outlined the positive impacts of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in promoting healthy behaviors in interpersonal relationships, bodily autonomy, and respect for human life. Through CSE programming, adolescents and young people are provided with a safe and brave space to support their development and understanding of the world around them. The tools provided through CSE empower individuals’ decisions about their bodies, expression, and sexual health. This is done through the exploration of concepts like ‘bodily autonomy’ which is the right to be informed and equipped with skills where you choose what you do with your body, how and with whom, among many other aspects without external force or influence. Developing the embodied cognitive skills to understand your body, and understand what feels good –– in every sense of pleasure –– is a lifelong exercise. It is an exercise that CSE is fundamental in providing a safe space for. CSE is best effective when it is age-appropriate and tailored to the needs of each age group.
The earlier CSE learning starts, the more effective it can be. A Ministerial Declaration Preventing Through Education”, accessed through the UNESCO Comprehensive Sex Education Implementation Toolkit resource, states that, “comprehensive sexuality education starting in early childhood favors the gradual acquisition of information and knowledge necessary to develop the skills and attitudes needed for a full and healthy life as well as to reduce sexual and reproductive health risks.'' Although this is a necessary commitment made at the level of legislative and executive spheres of power, the implementation of CSE learning cannot be on the terms and conditions of whatever political party is in power, nor to their terms and conditions, neither to the predominant discourse regarding sexuality and gender relationships, and identities in any given environment, and something about ‘preventing through education’ rankles of an incredibly harmful coding. Instead, implementing the CSE curriculum should be to fulfill the obligation to uphold the right to education, security, and good health and well-being as demonstrated throughout international standards of human rights.
CSE is a central part of achieving Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” and its thematic indicator 4.7.2 which measures the progress of the goal by the “ Percentage of schools that provided life skills-based HIV and sexuality education within the previous academic year.”
Comprehensive Sexuality Education programs can be structured according to a helix shape –– imagine starting to make loops with your hand, except each time you are about to finish one loop, you move your hand slightly lower and start the next loop –– whereby the same key points of information are returned to during each year of schooling, only in a slightly different way: “CSE must start with foundational knowledge and skills at the primary level, and building scaffolded ways through secondary schools and beyond.” This is the recommendation made in a report conducted by Spotlight Initiative [this EU-UN organization launches informed campaigns with localized partners, working towards an end of gender-based violence, particularly against women and girls] – and in many other reports from experts around the world in the past decades. The point is valid, however it must account for cultural and spatial specificities, even logistical particularities in any given environment.With all that CSE encompasses, the CSE curriculum will be most effective when it is context specific.
This, the fluid potential for directing CSE through a certain bias, is why CSE is so incredibly important. CSE taught through a risk-based approach can reinforce gender stereotypes and harmful practices that can lead to the discrimination of queer communities perpetuating the cycle of gender-based violence. Unfortunately, forms of GBV are rampant from a scale of everyday micro-aggression to fatalities. CSE must be a part of an individual's education, simply because it can and will provide skills that could and will save lives.
In recent years, Latin America and the Caribbean have witnessed a concerning surge in the influence of fundamentalist and right-wing movements, posing a formidable challenge to the promotion and implementation of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in the region. Opponents of CSE have strategically employed a range of tactics to undermine its progress, relying on fallacious arguments devoid of scientific support related to human sexuality. False accusations regarding the use of sexually explicit materials have been wielded as a means to discredit and delegitimize CSE programs.
However, in response to the escalating challenges posed by fundamentalist and right-wing movements in Latin America and the Caribbean, feminist and activist networks and communities around the world are mobilizing to counter regressive arguments and ensure the destigmatization of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). By recognizing the importance of CSE as a fundamental human right activists are working tirelessly to debunk fallacious claims and provide evidence-based information about the positive impact of inclusive sexual education and actively challenge the false accusations and fear tactics employed by opponents.
Feminists and activists aim to create an environment where CSE is perceived as a crucial tool for empowerment, self-determination, and the promotion of healthy relationships. Through their efforts, they seek to break down societal barriers, destigmatize the discourse around sexual education, and advocate for the universal right to access quality CSE, emphasizing its role in fostering a society that respects and upholds human rights for all. IPPF ACRO and Feminitt Caribbean share this values and that is why we recommend governments to:
- Guarantee access to girls and children to schools, education is one of the main intervention for girls to make their own decisions. Every child must have access to education.
- Invest in adequate resourcing for schools to deliver teacher training to ensure that teachers are well-resourced and skilled to deliver rights-based CSE curriculum in an unbiased and non-judgmental way.
- Invest in adequate resourcing schools to deliver effective CSE. CSE should be fun, interactive, and age- appropriate. Some schools are not equipped with adequate classrooms and instructional material to deliver CSE programmes. When there is dedicated financing allotted to CSE programming, learners are able to participate in comfort.
- Invest in menstrual equity by way of subsidizing the cost of period products and implementing a Menstrual Equity Act to serve those who are in need of support. Period poverty including a lack of access to comprehensive menstrual health education act as barriers for learners to attend school. When menstruators have access to period products and menstrual health education, they are able to enjoy their right to education, safely.
- Amend education policies and other supporting legal frameworks to enable the delivery of CSE programming in schools