Around the world, Plan International supports and empowers youth to lead change in their communities. Sometimes this looks like mobilizing youth to present local governments with petitions to end child marriage. And sometimes, it looks like giving youth a platform to have their voices heard.
In all cases, our goal is to ensure youth are equipped with the tools and information they need to access and stand up for their rights. This includes information regarding their sexual and reproductive health rights. We believe that comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education empowers youth to protect their lives, health, well-being, and dignity.
Without comprehensive education and knowledge, the safety and wellbeing of children and young people is put at risk. The absence of up-to-date, evidence-based information denies them the ability to make informed decisions to protect themselves, and to understand their responsibility to respect the sexual health and choices of others.
In light of the Sex Ed repeal in Ontario, we wanted to speak out on the importance of sexual and reproductive health rights, here in Canada and around the world. We asked our Canadian youth advocates what this repeal means to them and based on their own experiences with an outdated curriculum, see below what some of them had to say.
Emphasis on quotes below is of Plan International Canada, not youth.
“So, why exactly was the initial revision so important? The decision to include extremely important topics such as same sex marriage and gender identity in a sexual education curriculum sparked a movement of youth who value their differences and use them to empower each other.
Teaching children consent in grade two classrooms fosters the idea of a gender transformative society – one which aims to shift the attitudes of a whole group in order to solve deep rooted gender inequalities – and reduce the reality of sexual assault and rape culture. Educating children about how to better understand themselves and their identity has fostered a more inclusive learning environment. Many schools have created gender-neutral washrooms and hosted their own pride parades.
Overall, by teaching students about self-identity and gender expression, we create a province which truly values each individual child and wants to see them become the best person they can be.”
“With the internet and the onslaught of media that is surrounding public discourse, the 21st century has seen changes that were unforeseeable 20 years ago. New issues surrounding consent and implications of technology in sex have risen, and progressive sex education is necessary to ensure that the children today are equipped to navigate this complicated reality. Without it, we are robbing our children of the opportunity to live safe and informed lives.
Reverting to the older curriculum is akin to ignoring the 80% of kids under the age of 18 who have admitted to sexting one another and the LGBTQ+ youth who are 4 times more likely to commit suicide, along with promoting ignorance towards consent, which only 1 in 3 Canadian understands.
The 2015 curriculum addressed the need for consent in sexual situations, the evolving spectrum of gender identity and sexual orientations and how to deal with pressure from social media. As a teen living in Ontario, Canada I can truthfully state that such information is vital to making smart choices during adolescence that can really shape one’s adulthood.”
“We live in a world today where we openly talk about the construct of gender and sexuality so, why would we want to go backward in time? While reading about the 1998 sex-ed curriculum I realized the topics on same-sex relationships, masturbation and gender identity that were addressed in the 2015 curriculum will not be discussed.
The progressive sex-ed curriculum is important because it works with our time and our generation. I believe it’s important to have progressive sex-ed because it covers important topics around sexual health. In the progressive 2015 sex-ed curriculum as students transition into higher grades, they learn about same-sex relationships. By excluding this content and reverting back to the old curriculum, we continue to feed the ignorance and discrimination experience by members of the LGBTQ community.
J Wallace Skelton, an author and a gender-based violence prevention social worker for the TDSB states, “Homophobia and transphobia are still present in our society and our schools are a reflection of our society”. The  sex-ed curriculum will go back to the binary basis of sex and heterosexual relationships which dehumanizes other relationships and sexualities. It does not make any sense to not talk about same-sex relationships in the sex-ed curriculum when we as a country have legalized same-sex marriage.”
“The 1998 curriculum was made in a time before things like Twitter and Snapchat existed, meaning it has no way to address the issues faced by the youth of Ontario. Issues like sexting and sexual harassment have become extremely prevalent online because you can pretend to be whoever you want online and anything you post can haunt you forever. Children are now exposed to social media early on and may not understand the consequences of their actions, and there are adults online that pose as children to take advantage of them. This can lead to issues of sexual exploitation and cyberbullying.
The youth of Ontario deserve a curriculum that is from this century and helps to keep them safe, happy and informed. To leave out vital information or ignore aspects of young people’s lives is dangerous. Children will suffer from this repeal and it will shape the next generation as uninformed and perpetrators of stigma. Sex education is not the same as learning how to play a sport, if a kid never learns how to play baseball they will be able to navigate through life primarily unaffected, however if a child never learns inclusive sex education their life is negatively affected as they transition into adulthood.”
“I am outraged. Without these important conversations happening in the classroom, it puts a huge onus on the parents to ensure that their child understands important things like consent, same-sex marriage, and the dangers of social media. Will all parents broach these topics with their kids at home? No. If they do, they also risk it being too late or inaccurate.
We’d like to think these teachings are integral to parenting but having them normalized in school is SO necessary to open the doors to further questions and inquiries outside the walls of the classroom. To a young child, what a teacher says is so valuable. There is so much I didn’t learn from the outdated sex-ed curriculum I was taught and we really would be doing a disservice to the next generation if we revert back to a system that wasn’t even written in this millennium.”
How does Plan International Canada support sexual and reproductive health education in the field?
We work with local communities to improve access to education and sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) information and education. SRHR as a topic provides us with an opportunity to discuss gender equality and how to transform gender relations by empowering women and girls as leaders of change. We also engage men and boys as partners in this change to ensure advancements are sustainable long after our projects end.
Here are just a few examples of how Plan International Canada champions sexual and reproductive health rights in our work to advance gender equality:
- Deliver sexual and reproductive health education, we take a rights-based and gender-focused approach to sexuality education that covers topics including self-esteem, consent, gender norms, sexuality, sexual and reproductive health, sexual and gender-based violence, contraception and sexually transmitted infections.
- Establish youth groups where young people, especially girls, can speak openly with peers about their daily issues, especially related to self-esteem and self-image, gender norms and healthy relationships.
- Work with health service providers to ensure that they are equipped to provide maternal, newborn, child, and sexual and reproductive health services that are adolescent-friendly and gender-responsive.
- Work with women, girls, men and boys to improve the decision-making power of women and adolescent girls so that they are able to make choices about their sexual and reproductive health and access the health services they need.
- Work with religious and traditional leaders to ensure that the message of gender equality and girls’ rights is supported within the community and local institutions.
As part of our Change the Birth Story campaign, we have trained some of our Canadian youth advocates to be Maternal Newborn Child Health (MNCH) champions. The youth quoted in this article are all MNCH champions. And are helping us rally Canadians to support our international work to help women and girls access vital sexual and reproductive health education and services.