This year, the theme of International Education Day is “to invest in people, prioritize education”.
Investing in people is not an economic trope: it ensures human rights for all citizens to live and lead quality lives. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals - to which Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory - outlines in Goal 4: Access to Inclusive and Quality Education for all. This goal is followed by its key targets and indicators, to which 4.7 highlights the importance of learners receiving an education that allows them to lead sustainable lifestyles, achieve gender equality and ensure human rights for all. Thus, there is no doubt that Education itself is a fundamental human right. As such, access to quality Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is a human and educational right. CSE is also a critical curriculum to support other SDGs, namely, SDG 3: Good health and well-being and SDG 5: Gender Equality. It is not only an educational right but a sexual and reproductive health right for young people to access CSE.
Young people should have access to CSE to make informed decisions and have control over their sexual and reproductive health rights, free of violence, coercion, and discrimination.
The Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago in collaboration with Feminitt Caribbean launched a project, 'Youth and CSE'
Photographed: Needs Assessment Consultation led by young people for young people in Trinidad and Tobago
Gender-based violence (GBV) is an increasingly urgent issue within Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean region. Rates of GBV have increased marginally as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2019 to 2020, cases of abuse reported to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) spiked by 140 percent. UN Women notes that globally, almost 1 in 3 girls experience GBV as physical or sexual violence perpetrated by husbands or partners.
Gender-based violence can also manifest as bullying or mistreatment in schools. CSE has the potential to address this issue directly. CSE is not only about sex but covers a multitude of topics ranging from boundaries to identifying forms of violence to discussions of equity; conversations which are all delivered age-appropriately. CSE also teaches young people what gender-based violence looks like, how to prevent it, and how to challenge social and cultural norms that promote gender inequality which can lead to violence. The United Nations has repeatedly made the case for implementing CSE, with the potential of bringing us closer to achieving SDGs.
At this time, HFLE does not offer adequate and comprehensive sexuality education that is age-appropriate, rights-based, gender-sensitive, and life skills-based. This may leave children and youth vulnerable to uninformed decision-making. By addressing human rights, gender equality, relationships, and the prevention of illnesses while emphasizing values of respect, inclusion, diversity, and equality, CSE plays a crucial role in addressing the health and well-being of all children and young people
We call on the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health to work together alongside civil society organizations to implement age-appropriate CSE that is integrated into the existing Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) curriculum in schools throughout Trinidad and Tobago.