A Regional Fight for Comprehensive Sexuality Education
In August 2008, at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, health and education ministers from Latin America and the Caribbean signed a historic agreement—the Ministerial Declaration, “Preventing through Education”—to dramatically increase young people’s access to comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services by 2015.
In signing this agreement, Ministers took the first step towards eradicating barriers to access and upholding the sexual rights of all young people. Since that time, IPPF/WHR, in collaboration with Demysex of Mexico, has been organizing civil society in 19 countries to hold governments accountable for their commitments.
Through this alliance—the Mesoamerican Coalition—we have worked with more than 40 local organizations and IPPF Member Associations to evaluate progress towards achieving implementation, to spread awareness of the Declaration, and to engage in advocacy efforts with governments and other stakeholders.
“Comprehensive sexuality education is not a fad; it’s a right young people have to make informed decisions about our bodies and the ways we express our sexuality. It means that our generation will not be condemned to ignorance, discrimination, HIV infection, and unwanted pregnancies. Comprehensive sexuality education is a part of the recognition we deserve as thinkers and autonomous beings who participate democratically in the policies and programs that affect us directly,” said a youth advocate in Mexico.
An important part of our work within this Coalition is evaluating how far countries have come towards upholding their commitments. Four years after the signing of the Declaration, we have seen some promising advances. For example, in May 2012, Costa Rica adopted a national sexuality program for the first time in history. The program includes thematic issues and lessons that extend far beyond abstinence or the biology of reproduction. The curriculum approaches human sexuality in a comprehensive way, including lessons on human rights and gender equality, power and interpersonal communications, respect for diversity, and even pleasure.
Without the technical experience and knowledge of our local partner ADC and their allies from the Mesoamerican Coalition, which have been working closely with the Ministry of Education to develop the curricula, this victory would not have come to fruition. Although ensuring implementation of the program throughout the country will be an ongoing challenge going forward, its adoption is an important step towards meeting the real needs of youth in Costa Rica.
While progress has been made, many of us are asking governments, “¿Que Paso con lo Firmado?” or, “What happened to what you signed?” It is worrying to see that with two years left, many countries in the region are scoring well below this threshold—some as low as 24 percent. The low scores reflect the gaps and challenges our region has faced—and continues to face—in expanding access to comprehensive sexuality education and youth-friendly health services.
Nevertheless, our cross-country alliance to hold governments accountable is working, and we will not stop until the promises of the Ministerial Declaration become a reality for all young people.