Education International
Education International

UNESCO: Comprehensive sexuality education improves gender equality and reproductive health

published 4 March 2016 updated 8 March 2016

Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is key to gender equality and reproductive health. That’s according to UNESCO’s new report, ‘Emerging Evidence, Lessons and Practice in Comprehensive Sexuality Education - A Global Review 2015’.

The CSE leads to improved sexual and reproductive health, resulting in the reduction of sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and unintended pregnancy, according to the report. CSE not only promotes gender equality and equitable social norms, but has a positive impact on safer sexual behaviours, delaying sexual debut, and increasing condom use. The report was launched by the Health and Education section of UNESCO on 3 March.

Transition into adulthood

In addition, the global review revealed the impact of CSE on improved levels of knowledge and self-esteem, changing attitudes, gender and social norms, and building self-efficacy. These are particularly critical during adolescence, as young people make the transition into adulthood.

Core elements of CSE programmes share certain similarities: CSE’s firm grounding in human rights – including the rights of the child, and the empowerment of children and young people – and a reflection of the broad concept of sexuality as a natural part of human development.

Teacher training

Effective sexuality education starts early in childhood and progresses through adolescence and adulthood, building knowledge and skills that are appropriate for each stage through a carefully phased process over time, like any other subject in the curriculum.

The report further finds that teacher training was crucial to the effective delivery of CSE, as building teacher capacity to deliver age-appropriate, culturally relevant CSE is proven to support the development of students’ life skills. It also stressed that effective implementation and scale-up of CSE is reliant on engagement and support from parents and whole communities.

EI: Role of education vital

“This UNESCO report supports the idea, defended by Education International (EI) for a long time, that education must play a fundamental role in the prevention and elimination of all forms of discrimination that could face women and girls affected with HIV/AIDS,” explained EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen.

Several other studies conducted at national and international level have shown that the lack of education in general, and particularly on reproductive health and HIV prevention, increases the vulnerability of women and girls who then have little power to decide on fundamental aspects of their lives. Schools could play a “protective role,” he added.


The report also acknowledges a global momentum, and that young people are increasingly demanding their right to sexuality education, as evidenced by the 2011 Mali Call to Action, declarations at the 2011 International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa, the 2012 Bali Global Youth Forum Declaration, the 2014 Colombo Declaration on Youth, youth delegates’ inputs to the post-2015 development agenda through the ‘Have you seen my Rights?’ coalition, and advocacy efforts of the PACT coalition of youth organisations.

Based on the examination of CSE status in 48 countries across the world, the report was created in consultation with the United Nations Population Fund and the UNAIDS Secretariat, and was made possible with support from the Governments of Sweden and Norway.

The full report is available here