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The Future of Sex Education in Latin America
Last month in Santiago, Chile, a group experts and decision makers in the field of sexual and reproductive health were brought together to examine how much progress has been made in increasing young people’s access to comprehensive sexuality education in Latin American schools. The meeting was organized by the German Academy for International Cooperation, UNAIDS, and UNESCO to encourage the Ministries of Health and Education in nine Latin American countries to learn from each other’s experiences and explore the possibility of scaling up successful programs. I was invited to present the regional evaluation of the implementation of the Ministerial Declaration, “Preventing through Education.”
Many of the meeting’s attendees have spent their careers working to ensure young people have the information they need to make informed decisions about their sexuality, so this was the perfect audience to learn more about our evaluation. For starters, some of the ministry staff in the room had been instrumental in the signing of the Declaration in 2008. Thanks to their advocacy, the region now has a strong document in favor of comprehensive sexuality education.
In their opening remarks, the organizers informed us that the collective effort in Latin America had resulted in advances on many levels. From training over 80,000 teachers in sexuality education to including youth sexual rights in international agreements, progress in a variety of areas has been made. In spite of this, there is still little knowledge of how well the region is meeting the Declaration’s goals.
During the two-day meeting, representatives from each country were given the opportunity to present their advances in sexuality education provision, and it was heartening to hear that so many Ministries of Education are working to expand youth access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. Some countries, like Bolivia and El Salvador, are just getting started, developing curricula and sexuality education programs that will be implemented over the next five years. Other countries, like Uruguay, that have a longer history of sexuality education are working to scale up programs and ensure critical resources are sustained.
My presentation on the evaluation of the implementation of the Ministerial Declaration provided a civil society assessment of progress in 17 countries, identifying successes and gaps in public policies and budget allocations for comprehensive sexuality education. The evaluation highlights areas of advancement and opportunity, and helps identify the places where some countries are falling behind.
As we discussed the future of sexuality education in schools, a group of Chilean students protested outside and eventually seized the offices of UNESCO. Their passionate advocacy helped to drive home the common ground in our work: a new framework for education and a better future for young people in the region.