Annual Ministerial Review 2011
The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) welcomes the focus of the 2011 Annual Ministerial Review "Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to education". A new agenda of investment in education, especially secondary education, could be the catalyst for achieving the MDGs and sustainable social and economic development.
IPPF recognizes that education is crucial for the empowerment and the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young people, especially young women and girls. Although there is now increasing numbers of girls attending school, only 40 per cent of the estimated 104 million school age children are female. A survey of governments’ reports on human rights treaties showed that early marriage, pregnancy and unpaid work were the greatest obstacles to girls’ education. A more challenging indicator for progress towards gender equity and empowerment of girls is the ratio of females to males in secondary education, because successful enrolment and completion are linked with high age at marriage, lower fertility and mortality rates, improved maternal care and reduced vulnerability to HIV and AIDS.
The fact that young women and girls do not make it through secondary school (or beyond) has a direct effect on their economic independence and, in many settings, their ability to negotiate safe sex. Educated women have more options than those without, and education equates to more control over their lives. Educated women usually have fewer children, and the children they do have are often healthier and better educated. Increasing women’s economic opportunities - and control of assets - are a path out of poverty.
IPPF is committed to implementing the Programme of Action (PoA) of the International Conference on Population and Development, The Beijing Platform for Action, the Millennium Development Goals, the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Protocol on Rights for African Women, all of which strive to advance education for all, especially for young women and girls.
IPPF believes that comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is a crucial part of formal and informal education and that universal access to CSE is an essential component of any successful strategy for promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equity and sustainable development.
CSE raises individual and community awareness and knowledge of sexual and reproductive health and rights issues. When provided from the primary school level, CSE informs children and young people about their health and helps them to take control of it at an early age. Equipped with knowledge about how to avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV and AIDS, for example, young people can make informed decisions regarding their sexual lives. As per the Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment 3, paragraph 16 “children should have the right to access adequate information related to HIV/AIDS prevention and care, through formal channels (e.g. through educational opportunities and child-targeted media) as well as informal channels (e.g. those targeting street children, institutionalized children or children living in difficult circumstances)”.
Advancing CSE is central to addressing obstacles related to young women’s advancement worldwide and, therefore, to reaching the internationally agreed goals and commitments around gender equality. CSE provides knowledge and contributes to reducing gender stereotypes and violence against women. It is vital that both young men and women hear these messages from a young age and call into question societal norms and practices that are detrimental or discriminatory.
CSE also contributes to sustainable development by encouraging young people to be active, positive citizens. Teaching tolerance and learning about diversity can help to foment generations of young people committed to eradicating discrimination, violence, inequality and oppression. Further, providing women with the information about contraception and the benefits of delaying or spacing births can have far-reaching social and economic benefits for them as well as their families and communities. CSE also ensures that all young people know their rights and their potential to contribute to the development of their families, communities and nations.
Currently, young people are not given the information they need to make informed decisions about their health and well-being in many areas of their lives, particularly sexual and reproductive health. As noted by ICESC General Comment 14, paragraph 34 “States should refrain from limiting access to contraceptives and other means of maintaining sexual and reproductive health, from censoring, withholding or intentionally misrepresenting health-related information, including sexual education and information, as well as from preventing people's participation in health-related matters”. In addition, CRC General Comment 3, Paragraph 16, notes that “effective HIV/AIDS prevention requires States to refrain from censoring, withholding or intentionally misrepresenting health-related information, including sexual education and information, and that, consistent with their obligations to ensure the right to life, survival and development of the child (art. 6),
However, the lack of information necessary to make informed decisions about the health and well-being of young people has already had a major detrimental impact and contributes to a number of alarming statistics: 111 million new cases of curable sexually transmitted infections occur each year amongst young people; 4.4 million young women between the ages of 15 and 19 seek an abortion each year, the majority of which are unsafe; 10 per cent of births worldwide are to adolescent mothers; every five minutes a young person commits suicide, often due to emotional and social problems related to sexual and reproductive health (e.g. relationship breakdown, unwanted or unintended pregnancy, sexual violence)
Working through 153 Member Associations in 174 countries IPPF is committed to promote a comprehensive approach to sexuality education that focuses on specific attitudes and behaviours that promote and respect human rights, gender equality, and sexual well-being. IPPF is committed to reaching the most vulnerable and underserved groups with information, as well as services.
In doing so, IPPF supports the Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education (2010). In the report, the Special Rapporteur introduces the topic of the right to sexual education, placing it in the context of the patriarchy that still exists in many corners of the world as well as international human rights law and international and regional standards.
IPPF believes that comprehensive sexuality education should not be focussed solely on health outcomes but, in addition, should give young people life and critical thinking skills to become active, positive citizens in their communities and nations.
IPPF strongly recommends that, to implement the internationally agreed goals and commitments relating to education and to gender equality, it is necessary to ensure that comprehensive sexuality education is included in both formal and informal settings. Whilst formal education settings provide an ideal opportunity to reach young people with CSE, many young people – particularly young women – leave this setting at a young age. Therefore, any national CSE programme should prioritise outreach to out-of-school and other marginalised groups of young people.
Finally, whilst CSE provides young people with the information and skills they need to make informed decisions, sexual and reproductive health services must be available so that they are able to act upon those decisions. These services should be provided in a youth-friendly manner, with respect for young clients’ privacy and a commitment to confidentiality remaining central.
To achieve the internationally agreed development goals, Member States must:
· Ensure that MDG 2 and 3 - universal access to primary education, including comprehensive sexuality education– and gender equality and empowerment are afforded the funding and political priority it deserves
· Develop effective strategies to ensure comprehensive, rights-based, gender-sensitive sexuality education is part of formal and non-formal education programmes. These should be central to any new development framework that follows on from the ending of the current internationally agreed development goals in 2015. Member States should also recognize that the success of such a framework will require the meaningful engagement of civil society and leadership by young people. In addition, it will require the prioritization in policies and funding by Member States to meet MDG 5 and MDG 6.
· Ensure adequate financial resources to implement effective comprehensive sexuality education programmes and interventions to improve the health and well-being of all young people. Ensure that the provision of sexuality education is used as an indicator of the success of educational curricula.
· Meet the educational and service needs of adolescents, by providing access to comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services
· Reform laws that discriminate against young people (especially young women girls) or impede their ability to exercise their rights. As such it is necessary to enhance the monitoring of State’s compliance with international human rights obligations in the area of SRH.
Finally, it is incumbent upon Member States to do all that they can and to take the pro-active steps necessary to achieve sexual and reductive health and rights and gender equality and the empowerment of young people. Without such progress, the internationally agreed development goals including the MDGs will not be achieved.