Member blog: CSW 62: Without abortion it’s not comprehensive: sexuality education for rural youth

This blog post was written by Youth Coalition member David Imbago Jácome, David has been a member of Youth Coalition since 2017, working as co-chair of the Abortion Working Group. He is a passionate advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

On March 14th in New York City, the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YCSRR) in collaboration with Ipas, hosted a parallel event under the theme “Without abortion it’s not comprehensive: sexuality education for rural youth”. The purpose of this parallel event was to explore how to integrate abortion and reproductive rights in comprehensive sexuality education programs.

Our panelist included: Dr. Sarah Keogh, Senior Research Scientist from the Guttmacher Institute, Natalia Lozano National Coordinator from Right Here, Right Now Honduras, Randrianasolo Lova Andrianina, Member of Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Cecilia Espinoza, Senior Advocacy Advisor from Ipas. The panel was moderated by David Imbago, member of Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights.

Research on CSE programs

Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) has been established in many developing countries. However, there’s a lack of information on how these curricula have been implemented. The Guttmacher Institute has developed fact sheets, based on their research on CSE programs in Peru, Guatemala, Kenya and Ghana. Unfortunately their data shows that most teachers don’t share accurate information about CSE, like that condoms alone are not effective to prevent pregnancy. Regarding abortion, most teachers mention abortion as a “sin” not as an option if someone gets pregnant. CSE has a message with moralistic values, also mentioning homosexuality as unnatural. Some curricula seems comprehensive on paper, and yet the implementation is not. Teachers recognize that they need more training on how  to teach CSE, with some of them having never had training at all. Talking about rural youth, CSE should also be adapted to the context, like the language of the region.

Advocacy in Honduras

Honduras is a beautiful country, facing a lot of challenges. Feminist groups have been working on CSE since the 80s, however there has been a strong opposition from conservative groups. Forbidding emergency contraception was the first policy made by the government, and there was no scientific evidence to support this decision. Abortion is not legal under any circumstance, not even if the life of the pregnant women is in danger. There’s a persecution of women who have abortions, making us think if people are protecting rapists instead of women. In the case of rural women, there is a lack of access to health services, beside the lack of abortion services, women also face obstetric violence. Women search for help on feminist movements because the government is not addressing their problems.

Experiences from Madagascar

We heard real stories about unsafe abortion in Madagascar, and how reproductive health services can change the life of women and girls. CSE is not only about sexuality, it connects with other areas such as gender and social norms. Having abortion in CSE programs contributes to the personal decision making process of an individual. Limiting abortion will limit women to take control of their lives. Normalization of these social and cultural values make women feel disempowered. In rural areas, parents have a more important role on CSE, and therefore they should be involved in trainings on how to provide CSE programs. Without education, there’s no CSE, without CSE, there are no life skills.

The importance of integrating abortion in CSE

There are many conferences and agreements that support CSE, on the regional and global level. There has been progress in the implementation of these agreements over the past two decades, providing evidence that CSE can improve sexual and reproductive health, decrease unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infection , and even unsafe abortion, but we have to improve even more, without the fear of being “controversial”. Abortion can be included in CSE but it is not presented in the right way, contributing to reinforce misunderstandings that lead to not support safe abortion. Opposition often mentions that there are other “real issues” like clean water, eradicating hunger, and poverty. But human rights are interdependent and indivisible, so we cannot talk only about clean water if women are also dying from lack of reproductive health services. The recently published International technical guidance on sexuality education from UNESCO, mentions unsafe abortion as a key issue affecting young people’s lives, also sexual orientation and gender identity, are mentioned on these guidelines as important to be integrated in CSE programs, we have a good tool that we can use for accountability.

Teaching CSE with restrictive laws

Share information, evidence and data to change these realities for new generations, some places have laws that criminalize the LGBTQ+ community, in these cases we can always teach respect for every individual, in the case of abortion, teaching post abortion care is legal everywhere, also the consequences of unsafe abortion, so we can do risk reduction in the classroom, even with restrictive laws.

National advocacy for CSE

We should not be afraid to approach our governments, usually ministries of education and health work together for CSE, the ministry of health can be more open to CSE, contraception, and unwanted pregnancies, so they can be a strong ally. Also creating partnerships shows the government that there are important networks addressing this issue; there are national laws that we can use as tools to support our advocacy.

Dealing with opposition

We should not have tolerance, but respect on other people views, we can agree to disagree, however we are not talking about faith, we are talking about rights. Information should not be manipulated. Make people listen to you, we don’t need to convince people who actively work against us, let’s work with people who are still deciding on a position, give them information so they can decide based on facts.

An intersectional approach

Abortion is not only a women issue, it also affects transgender individuals and in general people who can get pregnant regardless of their gender identity. Unfortunately, health systems are not addressing these issues, and CSE can be a way to work and develop strategies to respect and uphold human rights. We may not work specifically on LGBT rights, but if we work on human rights, we are also working on SOGIE rights. There are programs and organizations that are working on CSE for people living with disabilities, however there is a huge gap in information on how to implement these programs. We should start engaging more about this topic.

Accountability for teachers on CSE

According to the evidence mentioned before, most teachers want to teach CSE, but they don’t have the training to do it. People usually have the perception that parents should be the ones teaching CSE, but they too also don’t feel prepared, so they agree that schools should be the ones in charge of teaching CSE.

CSE is a right

Abortion is a right

Let’s keep fighting for them!