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Rigid Gender Stereotypes Harm Young Indonesians and Stand in the Way of Their High Aspirations

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1 October 2019 Tags: Comprehesive sexuality education, CSE

Rigid gender norms have negative effects on both girls and boys, and inhibit Indonesia from fully benefiting from its economic growth potential, also known as the demographic dividend. These are key results from the Global Early Adolescent Study (GEAS) and the Youth Voices Research conducted in Indonesia as part of the pioneering research and advocacy programme, Explore4Action. The findings were presented today during the first International Conference on Indonesia Family Planning and Reproductive Health (ICIFPRH) being held from 30 September to 2 October in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

High Aspirations Limited

The GEAS collected information from almost 5,000 adolescents (12-13 years old) and their parents at three sites across Indonesia. The study shows that the aspirations of Indonesian adolescents are high. The majority of girls and boys want to pursue an education, have a career, and delay marriage and having children until after they are 25 years. However, harmful gender norms severely stand in the way of reaching these goals. As a consequence, Indonesia misses out on a considerable economic growth, referred to as the demographic dividend.

Gender Inequality Impacts Boys As Well As Girls

“Unequal gender norms do not only disadvantage girls and women,” says Miranda van Reeuwijk, Senior Researcher leading the Explore4Action programme at Rutgers. “Research shows that both boys and girls are negatively affected by gender norms. In our study boys score significantly higher on depressive symptoms, are more likely to have experienced violence and are more reluctant to seek help. We need to pay attention to both girls and boys if we are to tackle harmful gender norms and improve gender equality.”

Need for action: Comprehensive Sexuality Education

The GEAS also shows that both boys and girls have low knowledge about sexual and reproductive health, as well as insecurities about their developing bodies. The findings suggest that a lack of information does not protect them from harm, but rather leads to unnecessary feelings of anxiety and puts them at greater risk as they transition to adulthood, of which sexuality is a part.

The call is made for more in-school comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) as this plays an important role in the contribution to more equitable gender norms and supporting adolescents’ healthy development. CSE has enormous potential for addressing much of the adversity girls and boys face, such as bullying and sexual harassment, feeling guilty and insecure about their developing bodies, and in addressing harmful gender inequalities.

Window of Opportunity

CSE is needed in schools, as conversations about sexuality are – contrary to what opponents say – not happening at home. The research indicates that communication between parents and children on sexuality is low and that parents actually feel ill equipped to discuss related topics with their children. Scientists indicate that early adolescence (10-14 years) is a window of opportunity to build positive and equitable gender norms, in which CSE plays an important role. The study calls upon agencies, ministries and organisations to invest now, to move towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 5, gender equality.

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