Formulating advocacy messages on Comprehensive Sexuality Education: How do you make it?

Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is inevitably a part of human rights. A good CSE will help young people to maintain a healthy and fulfilling life with adequate knowledge, skills, and attitudes that they need to make informed choices. A lot of research and studies have shown that CSE can help young people to abstain from or delay the debut of sexual relations; reduce the frequency of unprotected sexual activity; reduce the number of sexual partners; and increase the use of protection against unintended pregnancy, STIs and HIV during sexual intercourse.[1]

Within the context of the South-East Asia region, some countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have not started providing sexuality education as part of their school curriculum. On the other hand, in Vietnam, there are attempts to integrate sexuality education with some limitations which mostly focuses only on HIV and AIDS prevention.[2] There are still gaps in providing a Comprehensive Sexuality Education for young people and it is our chance to advocate filling these gaps. An advocacy effort to integrate CSE within the school curricula is a must.

The question is: How to formulate advocacy message for CSE, particularly to the government and relevant stakeholders? Here are some tools that you can use in developing an advocacy plan for CSE:

1. Use simple and more acceptable language: Family and Life skills education

Comprehensive sexuality education is quite a new term and the word ‘sexuality’ is somehow perceived as a taboo word. Some countries have used softer words such as family and life skills education. The content is actually the same and it is just named differently. This has been done in Thailand, where sexuality education has been taught in school since 1978 under the term ‘Life and Family Studies’. The content within this curricula is very much focused on reproductive system and personal hygiene.[3]

2. CSE program is a cost-effective program which can improve young peoples health

In 2010, UNESCO conduct a cost and cost-effectiveness study in six countries. This study showed that sexuality education does save cost. It also improves young people’s health outcomes, including reductions in unintended pregnancy, HIV infections and other STIs.[4] The outcome of the study is important for us, as we can use it to advocate among the governments to invest more in CSE within school curricula.

3. CSE is one of the commitments that must be fulfilled by the Government, it links with Millennium Development Goals.

Firstly we need to find out whether our governments are committed to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. If it is yes, then it is a political commitment made by them within the context of international relation to support these goals. CSE is linked with Millennium Development Goals point 2, 3, 5, and 6.[5]

MDGs 2: Achieve universal primary education

Introducing CSE within primary education helps young people to avoid unwanted pregnancies and other reproductive and sexual health problems.

MDGs 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

CSE curricula that offers specific topics such as gender role, sexuality, equality will empower young people especially young women to take control of their sexual and reproductive health and make decision related to their relationship. These topics will also help to sensitize young men on gender equality and to play a supportive role in promoting gender equality.

MDGs 5: Improve maternal health

CSE can help to achieve this goal by two ways. Firstly, by helping young women take control over their sexual and reproductive lives. It can reduce unwanted pregnancies and create a safer environment for childbearing. Secondly, comprehensive sexuality education can increase demand for and access to health services, including safe abortion services that are affordable, accessible, confidential and non-judgmental.

MDGs 6: Combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases

CSE is undoubtedly an effective prevention strategy to reduce the transmission of HIV and other STIs. Aside from this, the issues of stigma and discrimination can be addressed. This will help young people feel more comfortable in accessing health services, particularly YKAP (Young Key Affected Population) such as young injected drug users, young men who have sex with men, young transgender, young sex workers, and young people living with HIV and AIDS


[1] International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education: An evidence-informed approach for schools, teachers, and health educator. UNESCO. 2009

[2] Reclaiming and Redefining Rights: Thematic Studies Series 1, Sexuality and Rights in Asia. ARROW. 2011

[3] Reclaiming and Redefining Rights: Thematic Studies Series 1, Sexuality and Rights in Asia. ARROW. 2011

[4] School-based Sexuality Education Programmes: A cost and cost-effectiveness analysis in six countries. UNESCO. 2011

[5] From evidence to action: Advocating for comprehensive sexuality education, IPPF July 2009

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Advocacy Statement from Youth Activists and Advocates from Asia Pacific for the 45th Session of the Commission on Population and Development

Young activists and advocates from Asia-Pacific demand full recognition of young people’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights for the 45th session of the Commission on Population and Development

We, young activists and advocates from across Asia and the Pacific belonging to various backgrounds and a range of movements; and organizations [1], welcome the forty-fifth theme of the Commission on Population and Development – ‘Adolescents and Youth’.

In 2011, there are 7 billion people in the world; with young people between the ages 10 and 24 accounting for nearly half that number. Eighty-five percent of young people live in developing societies and face grave health concerns, including sexual and reproductive health that have grave implications on access to information, services, and resources. Fulfillment of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is an integral part of our health, and has an impact on all aspects of a young person’s life, and thus must be prioritized to enhance our health, well-being, and rights. Keeping this at the forefront of the agenda, we make the following recommendations:

Recommendation 1: Protection of reproductive rights as human rights, and international recognition and adoption of sexual rights as human rights
Asia and the Pacific accounts for approximately 850 million young people [2]. We face multi-layered problems such as the issues of employment, poverty, education, and health that intersect with harmful cultural and traditional norms; impacting and restricting our access to a spectrum of rights, including SRHR, which are protected under instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In addition, the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, the Yogyakarta principles, and the World Programme of Action for Youth affirms our SRHR, bodily integrity, and the right for young people to meaningfully engage in decision making process.

Recommendation 2: Mainstreaming gender and a youth-centered budget in health system financing
Young women and girls in low-income countries continue to face the risks of permanent disability and death due to pregnancy-related conditions and experiences severe forms of gender-based violence.[3],[4] Young women and girls in the region also face the politics of gender inequality, puberty[5], parental and marriage consent[6]which pose further challenges in obtaining accurate and rights-based information about their own bodies, reproductive health, and sexuality[7]; thus endangering their health & well-being even more. Each year, there are an estimated 2.7 million unintended pregnancies among adolescent women living in South Central and Southeast Asia [8]. Ninety-three percent of unintended pregnancies in South Central and Southeast Asia are experienced by adolescent and young women, and occur among those who are using traditional or no contraceptive methods [9]. There is an added concern of access and support networks available for young married women, as services and relevant information are not accessible and available to them.

Recommendation 3: Provision of access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education and access to Youth Friendly Services for all young people; including pre and post safe abortion care and services

The South-East Asian and the Pacific regions have the second highest HIV prevalence rates with about 1.27 million young people currently living with HIV [10]. The United Nations Secretary General’s report reflects that in 2007, national surveys found that 40 per cent of young males (ages 15-24) and 36 percent of young females had accurate knowledge regarding HIV — still well below the goal of achieving 95 per cent of young people having accurate HIV knowledge, which was unanimously endorsed by Member States in the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS[11].

Young peoples’ lack of access, especially young girls, to information on sexual and reproductive health and rights is of intense concern. Comprehensive Sexuality Education that is framed in a positive, gendered manner and grounded in a human rights approach will go a long way towards empowering young people with the knowledge, tools, and skills to determine and enjoy their sexuality in a safe, comfortable, and healthy way.

Recommendation 4: Removal of legal, policy and cultural barriers, including parental and spousal consent for young people, particularly young women to exercise their rights.

The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action (ICPD PoA) explicitly recognizes the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people; identifying it as an issue requiring urgent attention and efforts. It also emphasizes the right of young persons to access services & information; respecting their right to privacy and confidentiality. However, matters of age; marital status; parental consent; and related cultural/traditional concepts restrict young people’s access to services, resources, information, and rights,

As the leaders within our communities today and as leaders of the future; we make the following recommendations:

1. Protection of reproductive rights as human rights and international recognition & adoption of sexual rights as human rights.
2. Mainstreaming gender, and a youth-centered budget in National health system financing
3. Provision of access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education and access to Youth Friendly Services for all young people, including comprehensive services for unintended pregnancies with pre and post safe abortion care and services
4. Removal of legal, policy and cultural barriers, including parental and spousal consent for young people, particularly young women, to exercise their rights.
5. Support for young people’s meaningful participation, leadership and involvement at all levels and types of decision making on development issues, especially sexual and reproductive rights and health, including in policy creation, planning, implementation & evaluation.
6. Ensuring the availability of quality, scientific-based data on Asian and Pacific young people’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights that enables communities to actively engage in data collection and analysis for the creation of evidence based advocacy and policy making. .

We strongly believe that it is only with meaningful investment in young people and the fulfillment of our rights that we can achieve the goals of the ICPD PoA, and continue to lead healthy lives. We strongly urge the commission to consider and adopt these recommendations at the earliest.

[1] Young people whose Working with communities of young women and girls, young people living with HIV/AIDS, young people who use drugs, young sex workers, young people of diverse sexualities, young transgendered persons, young men who have sex with men, young environmentalists.
[2] Civil Society Statement for the 42ND Session of the Commission on Population and Development 2009.
[3] WHO. 2009. Women and Health: Today’s Evidence, Tomorrow’s Agenda. WHO Press: Geneva.
[4] WHO. 2005. Summary Report: WHO Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence Against Women: Initial Results on prevalence, health outcomes and women’s responses. WHO Press: Geneva.
[5] International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education: An evidence-informed approach for schools, teachers, and health educator. UNESCO. 2009
[6] ARROW for Change: Young and Vulnerable—The reality of unsafe abortion among adolescent and young women. Vol.13 No.3.ARROW. 2006.
[7] ARROW for Change: HIV/AIDS and SRHR—How was Funding Fuelled the Divide. Vol 12 No.1.ARROW. 2006
[8] The Guttmacher Institute. Facts on the Sexual and Reproductive Health Of Adolescent Women in the Developing World. New York: The Guttmacher Institute, 2010.
[9] Rosen, J. Position paper on mainstreaming adolescent pregnancy in efforts to make pregnancy safer. World Bank: Washington, DC, 2010
[10] Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS. Young People and HIV factsheet. GYCA. New York: 2007
[11] International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education: An evidence-informed approach for schools, teachers, and health educator. UNESCO. 2009