The evidence for the many benefits of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) – which teaches adolescents and young people about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality – is mounting. We know that CSE not only helps reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and HIV transmissions but also gender-based violence. It is a safe and effective way to protect and empower young people and to advance gender equality.
Yet not all governments are investing in CSE programmes, which leaves many adolescents and young people with no access to potentially life-saving information that can help them make healthy choices about their bodies, lives and relationships.
Without information on sexual and reproductive health and gender equality, young people face a heightened risk of contracting HIV or experiencing an unintended pregnancy, which might not only limit their future prospects but also put their lives at risk. Complications during pregnancy and delivery are one of the leading causes of death among adolescents globally.
Worryingly, we are currently facing a wave of misinformation about CSE and what it does. This is causing decision-makers around the world to roll back support for it.
When CSE is not widely available to young people, harmful practices and beliefs, including gender-based discrimination, are allowed to flourish. These discriminatory norms can also lead to increased sexual and gender-based violence. When they miss out on receiving CSE, many adolescents also miss their chance to step into adulthood safely and confidently.
But it does not have to be this way. CSE can empower young people and adolescents to know their rights, make healthy choices, stay in school and flourish. It supports and strengthens efforts by parents, families, healthcare providers and governments to inform and protect young people and benefits not only those who receive it but also the wider society.
CSE is a powerful tool that can challenge harmful gender norms, stereotypes and practices that stand in the way of gender equality. It can help build young people’s understanding of love, respect, consent, care and integrity, contributing to healthy families and just societies. Importantly, it can provide them with the tools they need to identify abuse and coercion, set boundaries and know when and how to seek help. When young people learn about gender inequalities, discrimination and power dynamics, they are five times more likely to act in a way that successfully prevents unintended pregnancy, HIV and sexually transmitted infections.
Despite all this, today young people’s right to quality sexuality education and information is under attack. Numerous well-funded organisations are working in coordination to spread disinformation about CSE and to pressure governments to roll back their efforts to increase young people’s access to crucial knowledge about their sexual and reproductive health. One of their primary claims is that CSE leads to an early sexual debut among young people. The opposite is true. Evidence shows that young people delay their sexual debut when they have access to CSE, which increases their confidence and provides them with the critical skills, self-esteem and confidence they need to make informed choices.
Despite these baseless attacks, progress is happening.
In recent years, many governments across the globe passed laws and policies to ensure young people’s access to sexuality education. Today, 85 percent of countries have policies or laws related to sexuality education, and more than four in five countries cover relevant sexuality education content and topics in their national curricula in some form.
While advances have been made in all regions of the world, there is an urgent need to scale up our efforts. We must go further and do more to ensure no young person is left behind.
All of the world’s governments have committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for Gender Equality, Education and Health by 2030. This March, however, the secretary general of the United Nations, António Guterres, warned that at the current rate of progress, it may take close to 300 years to achieve full gender equality.
This is unacceptable. All governments must commit to incorporating comprehensive sexuality education in national curricula and invest in quality teacher training to ensure that young people get the education they demand, need and deserve. At the same time, more must be done to engage adolescents and young people, parents, teachers, community leaders and politicians to better understand the long-term benefits of CSE.
It is high time we ensured that all young people, everywhere, have access to the information and education they need to live their lives to the fullest, safely and with dignity. CSE builds a clear path to gender equality. So let’s invest in CSE and in the futures of young people.
1. Alexander de Croo, Prime Minister, Belgium
2. Alvaro Bermejo, Director General, IPPF
3. Aminatou Sar, PATH Senegal and West Africa Hub Director
4. Ana Catarina Mendes, Minister in the Cabinet of the Prime Minister and for Parliamentary Affairs, Portugal
5. Anniken Huitfeldt, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Norway
6. Ayelen Mazzina, Minister of Women, Genders and Diversity, Argentina
7. Caroline Gennez, Minister of Development Cooperation and of Major Cities, Belgium
8. Dayna Ash, Executive Director, Haven for Artists, Lebanon
9. Delphine O, Ambassador, Secretary General of the Generation Equality Forum, France
10. Dennis Wiersma, Minister for Primary and Secondary Education of the Netherlands
11. Enas Dajani, Founder of SLEATE, Independent, Palestine
12. Eunice Garcia, Executive Director, Youth Coalition
13. Faith Mwangi-Powell, Chief Executive Officer, Girls Not Brides
14. Franka Cadee, President, International Confederation of Midwives
15. Franz Fayot, Minister for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, Luxemburg
16. Georgia Arnold, Executive Director, MTV Staying Alive Foundation
17. Goedele Liekens, Member of Parliament, Belgium
18. Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of International Development, Canada
19. Isabelle Rome, Minister for Gender Equality, Diversity and Equal Opportunities, France
20. Jannemiek Evelo, Executive Director, CHOICE for Youth & Sexuality
21. Jeanne Conry, President, FIGO
22. Jona Turalde, Independent, Philippines
23. Jovana Rios Cisnero, Executive Director, Women’s Link
24. Julia Bunting, President, Population Council
25. Latanya Mapp Frett, CEO, Global Fund for Women
26. Liesje Schreinemacher, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands
27. Lilianne Ploumen, Independent – former Minister, MP and Initiator of SheDecides, the Netherlands
28. Lina Abirafeh, Independent, US/Lebanon
29. Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Social Development, South Africa
30. Lisa Russell, Founder Create 2030, Kenya
31. Lois Chingandu, Interim Executive Director, Frontline AIDS
32. Lotta Edholm, Minister for Schools, Sweden
33. Malayah Harper, Independent, Switzerland
34. Maria Antonieta Alcalde Castro, IPAS
35. Marieke van der Plas, Executive Director, Rutgers
36. Mariela Belski, Amnesty International, Argentina
37. Mariona Borrell Arrasa, President, International Federation of Medical Students (IFMSA)
38. Memory Zonde Kachambwa, Executive Director, FEMNET & Chair of the SheDecides Guiding Group
39. Ndiilo Nthengwe, VCRC/AMwA, Namibia
40. Patrick Sewa Mwesigye, Founder, Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum (UYAHF)
41. Richine Masengo, Executive Director, Sante Sexuelle, Democratic Republic of the Congo
42. Robbert Dijkgraaf, Minister of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands
43. Roopa Dhatt, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Women in Global Health
44. Ruth M Labode, Member of Parliament, Zimbabwe
45. Simon Cooke, CEO, MSI Reproductive Choices
46. Siva Thanenthiran, Executive Director, ARROW
47. Sonali Silva, Independent, Vice Chair of the SheDecides Guiding Group, Sri Lanka
48. Stephen Omollo, CEO, Plan International
49. Suchitra Dalvie, Director, Asia Safe Abortion Partnership, India
50. Svenja Schulze, Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany
51. Traci Baird, President/CEO, Engender Health
52. Vera Syrakvash, Independent Activist, Belarus
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.