ARROW and partners across 11 countries in the region from Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Lao PDR, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam came together for a workshop to help align and synergise advocacy efforts in institutionalising effective Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programmes in the countries.
The Secretary-General Report at the ICPD Beyond 2014 stated that,“protecting and fulfilling the human rights of young people and investing in their quality education, effective livelihood skills, access to sexual and reproductive health services and information; including comprehensive sexuality education are necessary for the development of their resilience and create the conditions under which they can achieve their full potential”. Despite many of governments in Asia having signed on to the initial Cairo Declaration in 1994, CSE remains an unmet SRH service. The reasons for the lack of CSE implementation are varied and further complicated by political, religious and social factors.
Although there is an increasing body of evidence underpinning arguments about the need for in-curriculum CSE and its effectiveness in terms of improving knowledge and some reported behaviours such as unwanted pregnancies and transmission of HIV, there is less clarity about how to institutionalise it within national systems of education. In Asia, some countries have national strategies that make direct reference to reproductive health in education; however, most of these countries are yet to formally include CSE in their primary or secondary education curricula.
This workshop was designed to examine the progress countries in South Asia and Southeast Asia have made since the initial declaration at ICPD and to identify the restrictions and gaps, which are hindering governments from fully committing to CSE.
The first day of the workshop was devoted to arriving at a common understanding of CSE using the IPPF framework and ARROW’s position paper, which detailed the 7 elements of CSE. These essential elements included; Gender, Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV, Sexual Rights and Sexual Citizenship, Pleasure, Violence, Diversity and Relationships. Common barriers in accessing CSE in its full form were identified during discussions across the region. If CSE curricula existed, they were often through a lens of prevention of unwanted pregnancy and transmission of STIs and HIV, pleasure and diversity were largely omitted due to cultural and religious barriers. It was evident through a mapping exercise of laws and policies pertaining to CSE that no one country had all 7 elements institutionalized in a formal education curriculum.
This day was focused solely on the situational analysis and sharing of experiences of the status of CSE in each county. This process allowed participants from other countries to learn about how CSE is situated in neighbouring countries and identify commonalities. This sharing was one of the many highlights of the workshop as it led to meaningful communication of ideas and exchanges of approach.
The final day was committed to a “writeshop” where participants were asked to devote the day to drafting their national country briefs on CSE, based on the extensive situational analysis participants had shared on Day 2. Participants had the opportunity to read out sections of their draft national country briefs at the end of the day where their peers along with ARROW provided feedback and inputs.
This workshop was an important step in creating a common understanding of CSE in countries across the region and to look at concrete ways in which advocacy on CSE could potentially be spearheaded to ensure the SRHR of young people in the region. It was a great opportunity for ARROW to gather comprehensive knowledge and understanding on how different partners have been engaging with CSE work in the region. These learnings and recommendations will be integrated into a regional advocacy brief which will be developed by ARROW.
To find out more about our CSE work, write to [email protected]
 ARROW’s publication ‘Young People of Asia: What is the status of our sexual and reproductive health and rights?’, 2014