What is Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE)?
Comprehensive sexuality education is a rights-based, gender equality-focused approach that promotes responsible, safe and fulfilling behaviors for young people in and out of school.
Its aim is to ensure that young people receive comprehensive sex education, based on life skills, in order to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills.
It aims to equip children and young people with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to make conscious, healthy and respectful choices regarding interpersonal relationships and sexuality.
The objectives are to enable young people to: enjoy their right to health, well-being and dignity; to develop respectful social and sexual relationships; to make their choices aware and to enlighten them on the way in which they affect their own well-being and that of others; to understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.
Why do young people need comprehensive sexuality education?
64% of the population of West and Central Africa is under 24 years old. These adolescents and young people have important sexual and reproductive rights and health (SRHR) needs. Among 15-19 year olds, 43% of girls are married before the age of 15 and 52% of girls have had sex, 95% of whom have not used contraception. In Cote d’Ivoire, for example, during the 2012-2013 school year, 77.6% of cases of unwanted pregnancies concern pupils aged 11 to 15.
As they move from childhood to adulthood, young people demand reliable information that prepares them for safe, productive and fulfilling lives. Taught well, comprehensive sexuality education responds to this demand by enabling them to make informed decisions about relationships and sexuality and to be sufficiently informed about all issues of gender-based violence, gender inequalities, early and unintended pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
What are the guiding principles of CSE?
Comprehensive sexuality education plays a crucial role in addressing the health and well-being of children and youth.
It enables children and young people to be provided, gradually and according to their age, with education in human rights, gender equality, relationships, reproduction, risky sexual behavior and prevention. diseases; it provides all the information necessary and essential for their development at all stages of their physical and psychological development; it also provides an opportunity to present sexuality in a positive light by emphasizing values such as respect, inclusion, non-discrimination, equality, empathy, responsibility and reciprocity.
What are the impacts of CSE on young people?
The positive impact of CSE on the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) of young people has been proven in many countries. Properly implemented, it contributes to:
– Limit disinformation and increase relevant knowledge
– Reduce risky behavior by reducing the frequency of unprotected sex and the number of sexual partners.
– Increase the adoption rate of responsible behaviors such as abstaining from sex, increasing the age of first sex, and increased use of condoms and other contraceptives
– Identify and reinforce positive values and attitudes related to SRH
– Develop the capacity of young people to make informed decisions and comply with them
– Improve the perception of the norms of peers and society.
– Promote communication with parents or other trusted adults. Programs that focus on gender equality are substantially more effective than programs that ignore this issue.
What is Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH)?
The MHH encompasses both:
-hygiene management associated with menstruation ie. women and adolescents use clean equipment to absorb or collect menstrual blood, which can be changed privately as often as needed during menstruation, use soap and water to bathe as needed, and have access to safe and convenient facilities for disposing of materials used for their periods. They also understand the basic facts about the menstrual cycle and can handle it with dignity and without embarrassment or fear.
-the wider systemic factors that link menstruation to health, well-being, gender equality, education, equity, empowerment and rights. These systemic factors have been summed up by UNESCO as accurate and timely knowledge, available materials, safe and affordable, informed and comfortable professionals, referral and access to health services, sanitation facilities and washing, positive social norms, safe and hygienic disposal, and advocacy and policy.
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What are the risks associated with harmful MHH practices?
Poor management of menstrual health and hygiene can lead to physical and psychological damage.
- Prolonged use of the same protections and certain practices can increase the risk of infections.
- Poor hygiene during menstruation can lead to infections which, if repeated, can lead to serious infections of the reproductive system and even infertility.
- Lack of protection or the use of improper protection can also cause blood to leak, causing shame and embarrassment.
- In schools: the absence of latrines / toilets separate from those for boys, secure (equipped with locks), clean, respectful of girls’ privacy can contribute to absenteeism and increase the risk of dropping out of school.
- Women and girls in extreme poverty or humanitarian crises are more likely to face hardship, reportedly increasing the risk of vaginal infections due to inadequate menstrual hygiene management.
Cultural norms and beliefs can also play a role in poor management of menstrual health and hygiene. Certain practices, traditions and misconceptions can create stigma and isolation for young girls and women during menstruation.
Without appropriate information and knowledge, girls and women suffer mockery, humiliation, violence (child marriage and pregnancy).
What are the best practices related to MHH?
Good menstrual hygiene practices limit the development of infections of the urinary or reproductive tract. They also promote the well-being of girls by reducing stress, anxiety, embarrassment and social exclusion or isolation during periods.
Girls should have access to information on menstrual health, but also on how to manage hygiene and menstrual disorders:
- Girls and women must have access to hygienic protection
It is recommended to wash with water and mild soap at least twice a day.
- Girls need to know the different sanitary protections, know how to use them and dispose of them appropriately; They can thus decide which product they wish to use depending on their context (cultural acceptability, availability, price, comfort, ease of use or access to water and sanitation facilities).
- Girls and women should be able to change their sanitary protection every 2 to 6 hours (or more frequently if necessary) to stay clean, to avoid infections, to avoid stains and to feel good.
- Reusable cloth protectors should be washed with soap and water after each use and dried completely. Moist tissue can carry germs and cause infections. If it is not possible to dry them in the sun (rainy season, lack of privacy), it may be more convenient to use an iron or hang them near a fire.
- Girls and women should have soap and water in an intimate place to wash when they have their period and to wash their hands when they change their sanitary protection.
What is menstrual insecurity?
Menstrual insecurity refers to the difficulties of many women and girls in affording sanitary protection because of their low income. The term also covers the increased economic vulnerability that women and girls suffer from because of the financial burden of sanitary protection in their budget. This financial burden does not only include sanitary napkins or tampons, but also the cost of painkillers and new underwear.
Difficulty in being able to purchase sanitary protection can cause girls to stay at home and not go to school or work, with lasting consequences for their school performance and economic opportunities. It also exacerbates already existing vulnerabilities and makes women and girls more likely to use dangerous coping strategies.
Menstrual insecurity is not only an economic issue, but also a political and social issue.
What are the most common myths and taboos surrounding menstruation?
Taboos around menstruation have always existed and continue to this day in many cultures, if not most. All over the world and throughout time, misconceptions about rules have led to the exclusion of women and girls from many roles or settings. Below is a non-exhaustive list:
Myth: Rules are dirty or dangerous
Menstrual blood is made up of blood and tissues, which are neither special nor dangerous. Yet throughout history, many communities have believed that the mere presence of menstruating women could be harmful to plants, food, or livestock.
Similar beliefs are still very common today. Some communities believe that women and girls can spread bad luck and dirt during their period (or with vaginal bleeding). This exposes them to restrictions on their daily behavior, including being prohibited from attending religious ceremonies, entering religious spaces, handling food or sleeping under their own roof.
Period stigma also affects how women and girls can manage their menstrual hygiene. Some cultures forbid them to touch or wash their genitals during their period, which could increase the risk of infection.
These beliefs also have consequences for how women and girls dispose of their sanitary protection. In some areas, they burn sanitary napkins to avoid putting a curse on animals or nature. In others, it is believed that burning sanitary pads makes you sterile. Some communities believe that if they do not dispose of these products properly, girls can have unbroken periods their entire lives.
Myth: Certain foods are prohibited for women and girls during their period
Many communities believe that women and girls cannot eat certain foods when they are menstruating, such as sour or cold foods, or foods that spoil easily. There are in fact no medical restrictions on the types of foods that everyone can or should eat, and dietary restrictions can even be dangerous because they limit nutritional intake.
Myth: Rules show girls are ready to be married or have sex
In many parts of the world, a girl’s first period (menarche) is seen as a sign that she is ready for marriage, sexual activity and motherhood. This leaves them vulnerable to a host of abuses, including child marriage, sexual assault or coerced sex, and teenage pregnancy. Although menstruation is one indicator of fertility, it does not mean that girls have reached mental, emotional, psychological or physical maturity. In rare cases, menarche can even occur around the age of 7 or 8. Even older teenage girls are not mature enough to make informed decisions about marriage, sexual activity or motherhood.
Myth: Periods reduce women’s abilities
The belief that periods reduce a woman’s physical or mental abilities is also widespread. Women are exposed to degrading comments about how their period supposedly affects their physical or emotional state. They are sometimes excluded from certain hierarchical roles or positions for this reason.
Myth: Real women get their period
Women can also be stigmatized for not having a period. Those who don’t are looked down upon because they “are not real women.” These perceptions help discourage women from using contraceptives that would affect their menstrual cycles. They can also have a very negative impact on women who do not have monthly periods, such as those who have irregular cycles or transgender women.
Taboo: Rules should not be talked about in public
Silence around the rules can lead to ignorance and neglect, including at the political level. This exposes women and girls to discrimination and menstrual insecurity, and has a terrible impact on those who are particularly vulnerable. Those with HIV may be discriminated against in their access to sanitation facilities, sanitary protection and health care. Those who live in prison or are detained in other forms often do not have access to sanitary protection.
Myth: menstruation is all about women
While it is true that menstruation occurs in the bodies of women and girls, as well as those of non-binary and transgender people, menstrual hygiene issues are human rights issues and are therefore fundamental to society. whole. This means that men and boys must be involved in conversations about gender equality and in the promotion of positive masculinities, with a view to eliminating the stigma and discrimination associated with rules.
How does menstruation relate to human rights?
Gender inequality, extreme poverty, humanitarian crises and some dangerous traditions can turn the time of menstruation into a time of deprivation or stigma. Over the course of her life, a woman spends an average of three to eight years having her period, during which time she may be particularly vulnerable to exclusion, neglect or discrimination.
A host of factors affect the way women and girls are treated during their periods, as well as during other periods of vaginal bleeding, especially in the postpartum period.
Exclusion from public life
One of those factors is the belief that rules are dirty or shameful. This contributes to the creation of restrictions on women and girls during their periods of bleeding, which exists in very many (if not most) countries. Some of these restrictions are cultural, such as the prohibition on touching food, entering religious spaces or the obligation to isolate oneself from the community. Some restrictions are self-imposed: girls and women may be afraid to participate in usual activities – schooling, sports or social events. All of these practices can reinforce the idea that women and girls have less right to exist in public space, and that they are less able to participate in public life.
Obstacles to opportunities
Another popular misconception is that the physical or emotional capacities of women and girls are diminished by their menstrual cycles. This idea can create barriers to their opportunities, which reinforces gender inequality. In truth, most girls and women are by no means diminished by their period.
Obstacles to hygiene and health
Poverty and humanitarian crises can limit the access of women and girls to culturally appropriate hygienic protection, as well as to safe and private sanitation facilities.
In more advantaged societies, vulnerable women and girls may also have limited access to safe and private sanitation facilities as well as periodic protections, including those that are part of impoverished school systems, those living in prisons or homes for the homeless.
The onset of menstruation (menarche) in a girl’s life can put her rights at risk. In many parts of the world, menarche is seen as a sign that girls are ready to be married and to have sexual activity. This exposes girls to a lot of abuse, including sexual violence.
MHH and fundamental human rights?
Many universally recognized rights are put at risk by the way women and girls are treated during their period.
This is particularly the case:
From the right to human dignity – When women and girls do not have access to safe sanitation facilities and to safe and effective ways to manage their menstrual hygiene, they cannot live their periods with dignity. The mockery, exclusion and shame associated with rules also jeopardize this right to dignity.
- Right to a correct standard of health and well-being – Women and girls can suffer negative consequences on their health due to the lack of products and sanitary facilities to manage their menstrual health. Period stigma can also prevent them from seeking treatment for period pain and disorders, which affects their health and well-being.
- Right to education – The lack of a safe place or the ability to manage menstrual hygiene as well as the lack of medication to treat menstrual pain can contribute to greater absenteeism and therefore poor academic performance . Several studies have confirmed that if girls cannot manage their period properly at school, their performance in school suffers.
- Right to work – Limited access to safe ways to manage menstrual hygiene and to medicines for pain and menstrual disorders also limits the professional opportunities of women and girls. They may give up certain jobs or be forced to sacrifice hours of work and wages. Period-related needs, such as bathroom breaks, are sometimes penalized, resulting in unequal working conditions. Women and girls can also suffer discrimination at work because of taboos around menstruation.
- From the right to non-discrimination and gender equality – Stigma and norms associated with rules can reinforce discriminatory practices. Barriers related to the rules that apply at school, work, health services and public activities also perpetuate gender inequalities.
Menstruation and Covid 19
What effects can the COVID-19 pandemic have on the ability of menstruating people to manage their periods?
The effects of the pandemic can have a significant impact on the ability of menstruating people to manage their periods safely and maintain their dignity:
- Disruptions to water, sanitation and hygiene services, such as lack of sewer maintenance or interruption of water supply or out of stock of consumables will have a direct impact on the ability of people to manage their rules.
- Shortages and disruptions in supply chains can lead to loss of access for communities to sanitary pads, tampons and other menstrual hygiene products
- Quarantined people who have either contracted COVID-19 or have come into contact with someone who contracted it, may find themselves with limited access to menstrual hygiene products or running water.
- Economic stress for families who are underemployed due to the pandemic can lead them to prioritize other needs, such as food or paying bills, and neglect menstrual hygiene products.
- Rising prices for menstrual hygiene products due to increased demand, panic-driven purchases, or disruptions in supply chains can deprive menstruating people of these products, or at least of those who are menstruating. their choice.
- Lack of knowledge about your period and menarche can lead to stress and anxiety. The pandemic can limit access to essential menstrual hygiene information due to disruption of normal health services, school closures, limited access to technology, and suspension of community programs.