September 3, 2009
A story in today’s New York Times made a number of misrepresentations regarding the publication of the International Guidelines on Sexuality Education: An Evidence Informed Approach to Effective Sex, Relationships, and HIV/STI Education by the United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO).
The International Guidelines are an important development in advancing comprehensive sexuality education and HIV/STI-prevention efforts around the globe and UNESCO should be applauded for its leadership on these important issues.
The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, SIECUS, has been extensively involved in the development of this document, fully supports it, and would like to help clarify a number of points.
First, the story vastly overstated the extent of criticism directed at this ground-breaking document, quoting an extreme, right-wing organization as well as an obscure local organization in the state of Maryland in the United States as sources of this disapproval. The latter organization was formed to address a very local issue and does not represent a significant or noteworthy constituency. The other is a fully discredited extremist organization whose theories on population are best suited for science-fiction novels, not the pages of the New York Times.
While giving too much weight to critics, the article also vastly underestimates the support for this important publication among agencies of the United Nations system. There are on-going discussions and processes working themselves through the UN system. We have every confidence that at the end of the day, the International Guidelines on Sexuality Education and the implementation of comprehensive sex education will be fully supported by all UN agencies whose mandates guide them to promote adolescent health. We call upon the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the agency cited in the article, to clarify its support both for efforts to expand comprehensive sex education globally and for these Guidelines as an important step in toward that goal.
Finally, the story erroneously reported that the Guidelines were to be released this week at a meeting in Birmingham, England and suggested that this event was cancelled as a result of criticism. In fact, no such release was ever planned and UNESCO already released a draft version of the document in June 2009 which is currently circulating in the public realm. Ongoing input to create a stronger and more effective document is, as always, welcome. The hope is that the document serves as a model for further adaptations to regional and country-level contexts.
In fact, this week a meeting is being held in Mexico City where technical experts – including numerous representatives from the same agency that the New York Times asserts does not support this effort – met to discuss how these Guidelines can be helpful in advancing comprehensive sex education in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Sex education works and is supported by every major public health agency around the world. Efforts to provide comprehensive sexuality education as part of HIV/STI prevention are moving forward around the globe aided by key resources such as the UNESCO’s Guidelines. Manufacturing controversy by misrepresenting the support among the United Nations agencies and by citing fringe American groups fails to reflect the genuine consensus and reality of global movement that is now heading in the right direction.