The European Parliament held a hearing on February 12, 2008 titled the “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Young People: The Need for Comprehensive Sexuality Education in the South.” The event was organized by a diverse coalition1 of NGOs, and presenters included Rosemary Zulu of Students Partnership Worldwide (SPW) Zambia, Bilal Aureng Zeb of Youth Advocacy Network Pakistan, and youth from the Global South who gave a statement on their experiences.
Rosemary Zulu’s comments focused on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Zambia, currently at a rate of 17%, and attributed the rate among young people to a lack of SRHR information and comprehensive sexuality education for youth. She also pointed out the discrepancy in SRHR services to youth in urban areas versus rural areas in Zambia, the latter often having little or no access to these services and information. Overall she stressed the importance of peer education, “gender mainstreaming” or improving gender inequality, assistance with sex education funding and implementation in schools, and use SRHR advocacy organizations as consultants to address the lack of comprehensive sexual education for youth.2
Bilal Aureng Zeb presented on “Comprehensive Sexuality Education in the Global South: Empowering Young People” and discussed various effects that the lack of comprehensive sexuality education has on youth in Pakistan. Of Pakistan’s approximately 156 million people, 25 million are young people, ages 15 – 24. High rates of maternal mortality (500 deaths for every 100,000 live births) and abortion (29 per 1,000 women ages 15–49) are of particular concern in Pakistan. Other issues include physical and sexual abuse, early marriages and pregnancies, abortion, HIV/AIDS, and STDs/STIs. He also discussed the need for cultural and religious sensitivity and suggested specific ideas such as separating males and females for sexual health education sessions, quoting from religious texts, and keeping parents involved for “values clarification.” He argued that the European Union’s (EU) needs to invest in governance and democracy programs on the national level, raise awareness through the media, sponsor teacher training programs, and provide financial resources to create youth networks.3
The hearing concluded with a youth statement signed by YouAct, WPF, EuroNGOs, RFSU, and the German Foundation for World Population (DSW). The statement pressed for a greater awareness of and information provided on comprehensive sexuality. The young people also stressed that their peers were suffering many negative outcomes as a result of current laws and policies: approximately half of new HIV infections are in youth—in large part because they don’t have the knowledge or tools needed to protect themselves, girls under the age of 18 are twice as likely to die during childbirth, and approximately 82 million girls in the Global South will be married before their 18th birthday. Youth in the Global South are more affected by SRHR issues and have less decision-making ability regarding marriage, sex, and the use of contraceptives.4
While particular SRHR issues in the Global South can vary by region, a desire for comprehensive sexuality education is shared throughout the South. The hearing provided an opportunity for organizations to give recommendations to the EU on how to implement programs and policies. Perhaps the most poignant were the recommendations from the youth themselves who requested meaningful participation of youth in the decision-making process including inviting them to take part in United Nations summits and the creation of strategy papers, commitment to including comprehensive sexuality education programs in the money allocated to secondary education and basic health, training for youth advocates, and a re-commitment to achieving previously agreed upon global development goals like the Millennium Development Goals and the Cairo Programme of Action.5
“This meeting marks a dynamic call for improving the quality of and access to sexuality education and sexual health services for youth across the Global South,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. “Comprehensive sexuality education is the foundation of a rights-based approach to sexual health and has the proven benefit of improving health outcomes by increasing responsible sexual behaviors.”
- The conference was convened by European Youth Network on Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YouAct), the European NGOs for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Population Development (EuroNGOs), The Swedish Association for Sex Education (RFSU), and The World Population Foundation (WPF).
- Rosemary Zulu, Students Partnership Worldwide Zamiba (2008), < http://sexogsamfund.net.dynamicweb.dk/Default.aspx?ID=16022 >.
- Bilal Aureng Zeb, Comprehensive Sexuality Education in the Global South: Empowering Young People Youth Advocacy Netowrk Pakistan < http://sexogsamfund.net.dynamicweb.dk/Default.aspx?ID=16022 >.
- Euro NGO, YouACT, WPF, RFSU, Hearing in the European Parliament on Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights of young people: a need for comprehensive sexuality Education in the South (2008), < http://sexogsamfund.net.dynamicweb.dk/Default.aspx?ID=16022 >.