Statement by Regional Director Carmen Barroso at the 36th Session of the Commission on Population and Development

Mr. Chairman,

It is a pleasure to address this session of the Commission on Population and Development when the important theme of population, education and development is being discussed. In the first days of the meeting it was very gratifying to hear the delegates' strong reaffirmation of the principles of the Cairo Conference. Today, more than ever, we need this firm commitment to address the tremendous obstacles that still preclude the full implementation of the visionary document adopted at the ICPD in 1994. We therefore applaud the recommendation of a non-negotiating technical review exercise, and the call for mobilization of additional resources needed to reach the Cairo objectives.

Mr. Chairman,

It is important that civil society organizations — which have greatly contributed to laying down the foundations for the Cairo agreement — continue to play an important role in the future of its implementation. The NGO community should celebrate that landmark consensus achieved almost ten years ago and develop a forward-looking strategy with a full understanding of the importance of the Cairo principles for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. IPPF intends to do just that, in collaboration with key partners which stand united in the defense of sexual and reproductive health and rights for women, men and adolescents around the world.

Mr. Chairman,

Regarding item 5 of the agenda, which we are now discussing, we would like to submit that policies regarding comprehensive sexuality education are one of the most important emerging policy issues, and therefore deserve much greater attention in the future program of work of the secretariat in the field of population. Governments around the world are extremely worried with the catastrophic effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which has been identified as the most significant demographic concern in document E/CN.9/2003/6. The same document quotes the study done in 39 developing countries which shows that despite the widespread awareness of HIV/AIDS in many countries, behavior remains risky, and that women are generally less knowledgeable than men about HIV/AIDS. Gender power inequalities are major factors behind both of these disturbing findings. Gender stereotypes that glorify female naiveté and male recklessness need to be addressed by rights-based, gender-sensitive sexuality education focused on decreasing risks and vulnerabilities, especially of the young cohorts.

As young people begin their sexual and reproductive lives, they need to have information available to them so that they may enjoy a healthy and pleasurable sexuality. The lack of information makes young people particularly vulnerable to several reproductive health risks, including sexually transmitted infections, unplanned pregnancies and sexual violence.

Governments have recognized the need for sexuality education in international agreements such as the one reached in the Beijing + 5 conference. In addition to the ravaging effects of the HIV pandemic among youngsters and on the economy of their countries, governments have come to realize that lack of sexuality education has contributed to young people's accounting for an increased share of population growth (due to early childbearing by the largest cohort of young people in history).

Mr. Chairman,

Sexuality education is a major component of reproductive and sexual rights, which gained growing international recognition in the 1990s. NGOs and international civil society networks have been at the forefront of the development of the concept of reproductive and sexual rights. For example, the International Planned Parenthood Federation adopted the IPPF Charter on Sexual and Reproductive Rights, which is based on international human rights law and became the ethical framework for its mission and programs. The right to information and education, recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights promulgated in 1948, is specified in the IPPF Charter in the following way:

 "All persons have the right of access to education and correct information related to their sexual and reproductive health, rights and responsibilities which is gender sensitive, free from stereotypes, and presented in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner.

 "All persons have the right to sufficient education and information to ensure that any decisions they make related to their sexual and reproductive life are made with full, free and informed consent.

"All persons have the right to full information as to the relative benefits, risks and effectiveness of all methods of fertility regulation and the prevention of unplanned pregnancies."

IPPF's youth strategy is built upon a commitment to the right of young people to have access to quality sexuality education and reproductive health services. To this end, IPPF promotes the development of youth programs that address young people's specific needs in a sensitive and nonjudgmental way.

Many of IPPF's associations are working in schools to integrate comprehensive sex education and STI/HIV prevention into the regular curriculum. This has proven to be an effective strategy for improving adolescents' knowledge, attitudes, and behavior related to sexuality and safe-sex practices.

The recent adoption of HIV prevention strategies in the education systems is most needed and welcome. Progress in this area could be greater, however, with a broader view of sexuality education. Going beyond HIV prevention to a sexual and reproductive health and rights approach would have the major advantage of casting the efforts in a positive light. Educators have long known that instilling fear of a negative outcome is more likely to lead to avoidance and denial than to sustained motivation. Comprehensive sexuality education, by helping young people understand and deal positively with desire, passion and pleasure, can contribute to healthy human development in line with what WHO describes as sexual health: "the integration of the somatic, emotional, intellectual, and social aspects of sexual well-being in a way that is positively enriching and that enhance personality, communication and love."

In many countries opinion research suggests that a significant majority supports sexuality education in the schools. Sexuality education can also be seen, however, as threatening by some policy makers and parents, for two main reasons. First, many know little about sexuality education. There is a growing accumulation of experience on sexuality education in different parts of the world, but it is still not well documented and disseminated. Second, some fear that sexuality education may lead to unwanted changes in sexual behavior and attitudes. Researchers have shown that sexuality education does not lead to earlier sexual activity. An authoritative review of the state of the art in comprehensive sexuality education policies and programs could help build a comfort zone for decision makers.

Thank you very much.

 

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