6 March 2023Tags: Commission on the Status of Women, comprehensive sexuality education, CSW67, digital, gender equality, New York, sex ed, Sexual Violence, SRHR, United Nations
Sexuality education should not be dropped from negotiations on education in a digital age between United Nations Member States in the next two weeks. This is what Rutgers will advocate for during the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York. “Including sex ed in the CSW will send a strong signal around the world that governments value the health and lives of children and adolescents,” says Rutgers advocate Karin van der Velde.
This year the CSW will focus on ‘Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls’. Whether we like it or not, girls and all children and adolescents will at some point encounter potentially harmful (mis)information and images online. Preparing and supporting them to navigate these spaces safely and ensuring that they get the right information through sexuality education is a shared responsibility of parents, schools and governments.
However, if sexuality education even makes the cut as a topic of negotiation between UN Member States remains to be seen. “Including sex ed in the CSW will send a strong signal around the world that governments value the health and lives of children and adolescents,” says Rutgers advocate Karin van der Velde.
Online sexual violence just as impactful as offline violence
The consequences of online sexual violence can be just as drastic as offline physical sexual violence. It can also lead to in-person sexual assaults, for example when children are groomed or when someone’s partner is using technology to perpetrate violence.
Digital sexual violence does not just take place in some far away online chatroom. The presence of the internet pervades our personal spaces and homes.It has the specific characteristic that those in a person’s social circle are also often witness to the violence and form judgment, through social media for instance. This increases feelings of shame and powerlessness with children and adolescents. It damages their self-confidence and trust in others, as well as their self-image.
Caring for the healthy development of children and adolescents means that sexuality education should be a focus during this year’s CSW and not something that is shunned.
The transformative potential of sexuality education
The right to education’s transformative potential is widely recognised and is a focus during this year’s CSW. The same transformative potential also applies to sexuality education. However, this is often met with resistance and taboo, especially during UN gatherings such as the CSW. Although international law standards state that regardless of the country they live in, young people have the right to access information about relationships, intimacy, and identity, this is often not the case.
The evidence is clear, however negative attitudes, stigma and taboos prevent children and adolescent’s basic educational right.
“We are taking a huge risk in letting children and adolescents fend for themselves in online spaces. We need to open conversations about what they are facing, what they need and how they need it in a way to works for them and we need to do this together.”
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