¿Qué Pasó Con Lo Firmado?: I Demand My Sexuality Education
Erick Monterrosas, Guest Contributor
Four years ago, at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, ministers of health and education from Latin America and the Caribbean promised to expand comprehensive sexuality education programs for young people. Four years ago, we were promised that the two ministries would work together to include young people in the design of public policies for sexuality education and youth-friendly health services to prevent new HIV infections among young people. Four years ago, when governments signed the historic Ministerial Declaration, "Preventing through Education," they made these promises and set the following goals:
1) By 2015, every country in Latin America and the Caribbean will reduce the number of schools that do not provide comprehensive sexuality education by 75%.
2) Each country will reduce by 50% the number of adolescents and young people who are not covered by health services that appropriately attend to their sexual and reproductive health needs.
In my work with Demysex in Mexico, and with my colleagues at International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region, I have had the privilege of collaborating with activists from the over 40 organizations and coalitions that comprise the MesoAmerican Coalition for Comprehensive Sexuality Education. Together, we have carried out an evaluation to determine to what degree the Latin American and Caribbean governments have met the commitments they made as part of the 2008 agreement.
Despite some progress, it is worrying to see that in four years, the regional average of the level of implementation for the Ministerial Declaration is only 50%, with many countries in the region scoring well below this threshold. 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.
Against this background, many youth in the region have mobilized to accelerate the implementation of the Ministerial Declaration. While there have been many demonstrations and public actions, the one actualized by the youth advocates at Centro Ecuatoriano para la Promoción y Acción de la Mujer (CEPAM) is one of the coolest samples of activism on comprehensive sexuality education that we’ve seen. In an effort to advance implementation of the Ministerial Declaration, young people invaded the National Assembly of Ecuador and began to perform a Reggaeton song. In a loud and persistent chorus, the young people rebuked their lawmakers, demanding: "What happened? What happened to the agreement? Pregnancy rates have increased. Listen, Ministers of State."
Young people in Latin America and the Caribbean demand comprehensive sexuality education: Our grandparents did not have much formal sex education, and if they did, these discussions were probably provided on the sly and filled with distorted information and prejudices. In the best case scenario, our fathers and mothers received sex ed based solely on biology – the old story of the “bird” and the “seed” and the “reproductive system” – and did not to mention the term “sexual health.”
But we are in another time now. We are the largest generation of young people in history. We are over 400,000 Latin American and Caribbean youth between ages 10 and 24 years old who must face the HIV epidemic. We are not satisfied with just any sexuality education program or sexual and reproductive health service.
Comprehensive sexuality education programs must come from a human rights perspective, promote democracy, and fully respect gender differences and sexual diversity. Young people require sexuality education to critique dominant models of masculinity that are based in machismo and violence. We demand services that offer counseling on sexual and reproductive health without discrimination, and we demand access to testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. We demand that health promoters not only promote the male condom, but also work to empower women with access to the female condom.
We demand that the ministers of health and education work together, as they promised, to advance the Ministerial Declaration through campaigns on television, radio, and the internet, which will meet young people where they are at. We demand that they take into account our needs, our concerns, our experiences, and our desires when designing programs targeting youth. Finally, we demand the necessary financial resources needed to fulfill the goals of the Ministerial Declaration.
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 ingnorance, 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.
Today, as part of the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, young people from all over Latin America and the Caribbean have joined forces with our comrades in Ecuador in a regional campaign: ¿Qué Pasó con lo Firmado? From Mexico to Chile, in the streets and squares and on the web, we are asking our government leaders: What happened to your promise? Where is my comprehensive sexuality education?