Adolescents' access to sexuality information and education must be ensured in order to enable them develop the knowledge and skills necessary to make the transition to adulthood, said presenters at a panel discussion in New York on 8 May. When adolescents are provided with sexuality education, they become less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour, said the panellists from Mongolia, Pakistan, Nigeria and Mexico.
The panellists shared their experiences in designing and implementing programmes that support adolescents at the event organized by the International Women's Health Coalition, with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Health Organization and the World Bank. Entitled Adolescents at the Crossroads, the event was held in the context of the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Children.
In opening remarks, Kunio Waki, Deputy Executive Director (Programmes) of the UNFPA, said that the Fund had taken a stand on the issue of adolescents' access to sexuality education.
There was not enough caring and information on sexuality issues available to adolescents in many countries, both developed and developing, continued Mr. Waki. To help deal with issues affecting adolescents, the UNFPA had produced a booklet covering its involvement with adolescents and another dealing with the problem of fistula.
Mr. Waki said that it was necessary to mobilize and empower youths to communicate with other youths since adults might not always do that job effectively.
In their presentations, the panellists noted in many communities there was opposition to adolescents' access to sexuality education due to fears that that such education would promote promiscuity. The reverse was the case, they pointed out.
Talking about the successful development of sexuality curricula in her country, Oyun Lkhagvasuren, Project Coordinator of the Health Education Project in Mongolia's Ministry of Health, praised the role of the UNFPA, which, rather than translate and adapt sexuality education curricula from other countries, supported the training of national experts who then designed the country's own curricula, prepared and conducted training for teachers and developed teacher and student manuals.
Ms. Lkhagvasuren said that since adolescents would use the sexuality knowledge and skills they are taught to ensure their health and well-being throughout their lives, it was crucial to invest in the training of their teachers. "If attention is given to the needs of teachers and an adequate training programme is developed, implementation of a sexuality education programme is not only possible and rewarding, but also invaluable to our children."
Adenike Esiet, Director of Action Health Incorporated, a Nigerian non-governmental organization (NGO), stressed the importance of community support in promoting adolescent and reproductive rights. "Without parents and community members' support, it is impossible to successfully provide adolescents with the kind of education they need to adopt safe and responsible behaviours."
Building alliances with other stakeholders and being proactive in the media, particularly in terms of framing the discourse, were also crucial, she added.
Another presenter, Shazia Premjee of Aahung, a Pakistan-based NGO, said that her organization, working with Save the Children UK, had developed a life skills curriculum that sought to raise Pakistani adolescents' awareness of sexuality and reproduction, build their self-esteem and confidence, and increase their access to quality sexual health services. That curriculum makes a special effort to ensure sensitivity to issues of gender.
Some sectors of the society find it disturbing when young people join together and openly discuss their sexuality and work for sexual and reproductive rights, said Maria Antonieta Alcalde Castro of Balance (Mexico). Youth organizations also find it hard to gain the respect and trust of other organizations, institutions and foundations. These challenges present a huge obstacle to the youth organizations in securing financial and technical resources as well as gaining access to decision makers.
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The UNFPA is the world's largest multilateral source of population assistance. Since it became operational in 1969, it has provided some $5.6 billion to developing countries to meet reproductive health needs and support sustainable development efforts.