Comprehensive sexuality education combats violence against women and girls

An estimated one in three women and girls worldwide report suffering physical or sexual abuse, most often at the hands of an intimate partner, making gender-based violence one of the most widespread human rights violations. This violence often takes place within schools, the one place where children should expect to be safe.

Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) which is both inclusive and non-stigmatizing, and promotes gender equality and the rights of young people, plays a key role in the battle against sexual and gender-based violence. These were the findings presented by Senior Programme Specialist in Health Education at UNESCO, Joanna Herat, as part of a Plan UK event in London on 11 February.  

The event saw the launch of the Plan UK report “We want to learn about good love - findings from a qualitative study assessing the links between comprehensive sexuality education and violence against women and girls”. The discussion drew together global leaders in the field of CSE and gender rights, including representatives from the Department for International Development (DFID), International Planned Parenthood Federation, Sex Education Forum, Plan International, and Save the Children.  

School can be a place for prevention and change

“School may be a site for violence, but it is also a place for prevention and changing social norms, and this is where comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) comes in,” said Joanna Herat. “Unfortunately, issues of gender and rights are almost consistently absent or inadequately covered through current CSE curricula across all regions.

“Sexual abuse, exploitation and rape were also missing or were poorly addressed in a large number of countries, including some countries with the highest rates of sexual violence in the world” Herat added.

Herat discussed the findings ahead of the March 2016 release of a global review of CSE implementation and coverage in 48 countries, “Emerging Evidence, Lessons and Practice in Comprehensive Sexuality Education”. The result of a partnership between UNESCO, United Nations Population Fund and other lead agencies, the report not only looks at the role of CSE in countering violence against women and girls, but examines its position within school curricula, and its importance in improving health outcomes.

“We want all learners to be able to learn and educators to teach in a safe learning environment free of stigma, discrimination and violence,” Herat said. “Overall, the upcoming report has found that a majority of countries are now embracing the concept of CSE, informed by evidence and international guidance. We will continue to provide support to countries in their efforts to develop age-appropriate, evidence-informed curricula that reflect the country context and that will have a direct, beneficial impact on the HIV response and more widely on adolescent and young people’s health”.

The global review into the status of CSE implementation and coverage is due to be released in March 2016