Addressing sexual and reproductive health rights through education
Submitted By Dr Joannie Bewa.
Education is one of the most effective strategies for sharing knowledge, skills and to contribute to reduced social vulnerabilities and inequities. Unfortunately attention to health in education, especially sexual and reproductive health, is lacking so significantly that millions of girls worldwide face unnecessary barriers to their education.
Why is it so important to link adolescent sexual and reproductive health with education?
In many places around the world, adolescent girls are dropping out of school for economic, socio-cultural and health related reasons. Due to a lack of access to information regarding sexual and reproductive health many adolescent girls are not able to make informed decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health. Without this education girls are especially vulnerable to unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and early marriage. Alarmingly, data reflects that every year approximately 10 million teenage girls marry – the majority of them without having completed secondary education. Furthermore at least 111 million new cases of preventable sexually transmitted infections occur among young people, with an estimated 2 million adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 living with HIV worldwide.
Additionally, many adolescent girls have very little information regarding menstruation and the physical and emotional changes which occur as a result. When girls don’t have access to appropriate menstrual hygiene materials, it is reported that their school absenteeism increases, their school-performance decreases, and they are more likely to drop out of school as a result. This impact is exacerbated by an absence of clean water, soap and private latrines in schools. The problem is widespread, with UNICEF estimating that 1 in 10 school-age African girls do not attend school during menstruation. The World Bank estimates the length of girls’ absences as approximately 4 days every 4 weeks - making menstrual hygiene management a significant barrier to adolescent girls’ access to education.
These aforementioned issues facing adolescent girls are something which can be easily addressed through sexual and reproductive health education in schools. It is important to recall that having access to education, as well as sexual and reproductive health is a basic human right. Everyone has the right to have access to appropriate information and materials to make life-changing decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. Comprehensive education targeted at adolescents on their sexual and reproductive health can not only increase informed decision making it also has the ability to address gender equality through the empowerment of adolescent girls.
5 key ways to ensure sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHRs) are included in education
- Civil society and teachers organisations can lobby governments to ensure comprehensive education on SRHRs are included in school curricula;
- Youth leaders and school representatives can show active leadership by engaging in school governance and politics to raise the need for SRHRs in schools;
- Governments and donors must focus on investing in SRHRs in education;
- Ensure SRHRs education as embedded in curricula meets the needs of the most vulnerable girls – those at risk, and those with specific needs;
- Donors and governments must support the implementation of national policies and budgeting towards the systematic and formalised integration of SRHRs programs and initiatives in education.
As we celebrate International Youth Day, we must honour the international commitments we have made to girls’, especially in regard to access to their sexual and reproductive health rights. In order to truly ensure that no girl is left behind in education by 2030, we must advocate for donors and governments to prioritise and invest in sexual and reproductive health rights – as promoted through education as a means to decrease school drop out due to poor access to menstrual hygiene materials, early marriage, and family planning. Without donor and government and donor prioritisation, investment and political will our education and gender equity goals will fail adolescent girls, and continue to remain an aspiration rather than a reality.
 http://data.unicef.org/hiv-aids/adolescents-young-people.html  http://www.ungei.org/news/247_5761.html  UNESCO, (2014). ‘Puberty Education and Menstrual Hygiene Management’ http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002267/226792e.pdf