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Asia Pacific countries talk sexuality education in Bangkok

©UNESCO

27.07.2011

Nearly 100 delegates from 18 Asia-Pacific countries met in Bangkok to discuss how to provide more and better sexuality education for the region’s millions of adolescent girls and boys.

The Regional Consultations on Sexuality Education and Gender, on 18-21 July 2011 convened by UNFPA, UNESCO and UNICEF, brought together governments, civil society, and development partners, and researchers from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Timor-Leste. They were joined by representatives from Guatemala, Ethiopia and Malawi, where a global UN initiative to support adolescent girls has been piloted.

The focus of the meeting was finding better ways to reach both in and out of school adolescents with vital health and sexuality education, and to find ways to overcome barriers to its implementation.

Drawing on these exchanges, participants looked at how they could improve national sexuality education programmes, and promote the rights of adolescent girls in the Asia Pacific region as part of the UN Adolescent Girls Task Force Initiative.

Margaret Sheehan, UNICEF’s Asia-Pacific Youth and Adolescence Development Specialist, said the networking and exchanges of ideas among regional officials and experts would help build momentum for much-needed gains in sexuality education.

“These have been the most substantive regional talks on these issues to date, and it is heartening that key officials from across the Asia Pacific are leaving Bangkok with concrete ideas on how they can strengthen their own national programmes.

“They will be important advocates in raising awareness on the vital role sexuality education has in the healthy development of adolescents, and young girls in particular,” Ms. Sheehan said.

Justine Sass, UNESCO’s Asia-Pacific HIV and AIDS Advisor, said quality sexuality education will not only achieve important health outcomes, but also produce healthier, mutually-supportive relationships free from violence.

“Effective sexuality education programmes will help reduce the risk of STIs, including HIV, by encouraging lower risk behaviour, such as delaying sexual debut, avoiding sex with multiple partners, and consistently and correctly using condoms,” she said.

Jo Sauvarin, Asia Pacific Technical Advisor for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), said much more advocacy work was required in the Asia Pacific to show that sexuality education was too important to ignore.  

 “Investing properly in the participatory teaching methodology required to effectively deliver sexuality education will achieve benefits across the education sector.  It will also help reduce early marriage, early pregnancy and the high rates of maternal and infant mortality associated with that, and reduce the social and economic losses arising when young women have children too early.”  

Professor Saroj Yadav, coordinator of India’s national Adolescence Education Program, said that, while countries would continue to adopt culturally-appropriate approaches, the UN International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education, published by UNESCO in 2009, represented an invaluable guide for education and health-sector professionals.

While for many in the region, the topic of sexuality education remains taboo, lessons being shared during the meeting have proven that barriers to sexuality education can be overcome and the long-term health and other benefits, particularly for adolescent girls, are too critical to ignore.