Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Comprehensive sexuality education is age-appropriate education about human rights, human sexuality, gender equality, relationships and sexual and reproductive health and rights through the provision of scientifically-accurate, non-judgmental information.

[Op-Ed] Delaying Gender Identity In Sex Ed Plays Politics With Kids’ Lives

Ontario’s plan for the sex-ed curriculum fails to meet the rights and needs of kids

Op-Ed published in the Huffington Post

Activists should be proud this week. The fact that Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced on Friday that her government will not exclude vital lessons around LGBTQ+ sexuality, consent, and social-media literacy from Ontario’s sexuality education curriculum is proof that the massive wave of public push-back in support for sex-ed is working. The overwhelming majority of parents, educators, and young people who stood up to fight for sex-ed were impossible to ignore. It’s a win for sex-ed but what the government announced is a compromise between what they want and what parents, teachers, and young people are asking for.

Ontario’s plan for the sex-ed curriculum still fails to meet the rights and needs of kids. We need to remain vigilant.

Ontario’s new sex-ed curriculum will remain a step back from where we got to in 2015. The minister said that the curriculum will delay teaching about gender identity and expression until Grade 8, which is the latest they can possibly push it within elementary school curriculums. These compromises may seem small but they have serious implications for students and their families, particularity LGBTQ+ youth and their families. Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas. Now is the time to recognize that protest works and that we should continue to push until no child is left behind.

First, some context: according to UN experts and the 2018 UNESCO International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education, no curriculum in Canada meets the highest quality standards for sex ed. Almost no kid in Canada is getting the complete education they need to live full, healthy lives. Those few who do are fortunate enough to have exceptional supports that are often offered by sexual health experts who have made it their mandate to build capacity in schools or with children themselves. But this is the exception, not the rule.

The inconsistent, patchwork nature of quality sex education throughout Canada is nothing less than a human rights violation. That is why a recent letter sent from a large group of UN human rights experts to Prime Minister Justin Trudeaudemands that Canada immediately intervene to ensure that young people across Canada, in every jurisdiction, have equal access to high-quality sex ed. And that is why Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights is campaigning for better sex ed everywhere in Canada.

Playing politics with the health of kids is a dangerous thing for any government to do. Thankfully, the public has proved that it has no intention of sacrificing the well-being of young people because of unwarranted fears based on misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia.

We should feel proud that parents, educators, and young people were successful in pushing back against what could have been an unmitigated disaster. But we should also remain deeply concerned that the new curriculum will not meet the needs of our kids.

The fact that children will not be taught about gender identity until Grade 8 may not seem like a big deal but it will have a huge negative impact. The notion that including gender diversity in classroom discussions is not “age-appropriate” is patently untrue, as well as dangerously stigmatizing. Most children will develop a sense of their gender identity between the ages of two and five. How is that child meant to feel when people are telling them that their thoughts, feelings and indeed, their whole self is not “appropriate” to express? For kids who are gender diverse, or gender creative, knowing that gender expression and diversity exists and that it is normal will have real consequences for their mental and physical health. This isn’t about politics, this is about real people and their lives.

All kids need to learn about gender identity. Gender roles that teach boys to be tough and unemotional and girls to be submissive and pleasing have serious consequences too. These messages, so pervasive in society and media, must be actively managed through gender-sensitive, gender inclusive, age-appropriate sexuality education that begins in kindergarten.

Statement on Ontario’s Sex-Ed Curriculum

Following Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson’s announcement regarding the Ontario Sex-ed curriculum on Friday, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights congratulates every person in Ontario and around the country that rose to protest roll-back of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum but notes that there is still work to be done. Delaying inclusion of LGBTQ+ inclusion and gender identity until grade 8 will have serious implications for young people. We urge parents, teachers, allies and activists to continue fighting for the high-quality, evidenced based sexuality education that all children need to live full healthy lives.

Most children will develop a sense of their gender identity between the ages of two and five. Delaying discussion of gender diversity until children are thirteen can cause real harm for young people and their families.

Across Canada, children are receiving sub-par, inconsistent sex-ed. No curriculum in Canada meets internationally recognized human rights standards and for Ontario to choose to regress on sex-ed at all, when parents, teachers, and the young people themselves are clearly demanding a comprehensive curriculum, is a blow to the health and well-being of young people.

UN Experts Gravely Concerned with Sex-Ed in Ontario

The United Nations is calling on Canada to uphold young people’s right to quality sex-ed in Ontario. Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights is thrilled that our plea to the UN has been met with support.

Immediately after the Ontario government announced its plan to cancel the 2015 health curriculum and revert back to the outdated 1998 curriculum, Action Canada, in collaboration with The 519 and SHORE Centre, submitted an urgent appeal to the UN’s  Special Procedures to draw attention to the human rights violations occurring as a result.

On 19 December 2018, Canada received an official communication endorsed by UN human rights experts[1] demanding Canada take immediate steps to ensure compliance with human rights obligations.

The message to Canada is clear: federal and provincial governments have an obligation to ensure all young people are provided with sexuality education and failure to ensure access to sexuality education is a violation of human rights.

The communication from the UN Special Procedures demands that Canada explain and account for the serious breach of human rights that occurred when the government of Ontario chose to regress to the 1998 sex-ed curriculum, which excludes lessons on LGBTQ+ identities and sexualities, consent, media literacy, gender equality, inclusivity of persons with disabilities, and take interim measures to prevent the re-occurrence of human rights violations.

The Government of Canada must now take two immediate actions: (1) “ensure that all individuals and groups have access to comprehensive, non-discriminatory, evidence-based, scientifically accurate and age appropriate information on all aspects of sexual and reproductive health, including gender equality, sexual and gender-based violence, and the issue of consent” and (2) ensure all jurisdictions comply with international human rights obligations.

The communication also asked for accountability regarding any threatened consequences for teachers reported for teaching the 2015 curriculum. Educators have the obligation and the right to teach the best possible curriculum to their students and must not be punished for upholding the standards of their profession. The communication further establishes the role of the federal government in ensuring provincial jurisdictions comply with human rights violation obligations.

Action Canada along with our allies demand that Canada engage in immediate dialogue with the Government of Ontario to ensure the human rights of children and youth in accordance with international human rights treaties as well as the Canadian Charter and the Ontario Human Rights Code. The denial of rights to non-discrimination, health and education is unacceptable.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must engage with Ontario Premier Doug Ford in an effort to immediately reinstate the 2015 sex-ed curriculum.

Scientifically accurate, evidence-based, non-discriminatory, age appropriate comprehensive sexuality education is the internationally recognized right of all young people. It is essential for their sexual and reproductive health and it works to end gender-based discrimination and violence, including homophobia and transphobia.

The federal government, as signatory to international human rights law, is responsible for realizing human rights, particularly for marginalized people that include queer and trans youth.

[1] Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; the Special Rapporteur on the right to education; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice

Submission to Education Consultation in Ontario

In November 2018, the Government of Ontario launched a consultation on education. All are welcome to participate in the consultation.

One specific element of the consultation is “building a new age-appropriate Health and Physical Education curriculum that includes subjects like mental health, sexual health education and the legalization of cannabis.”

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights prepared a submission in response to the consultation, focusing on young people’s right to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), with some specific reference to the legal protections associated with CSE in the province of Ontario. We invite all those interested to use Action Canada’s submission in their own engagement with the consultation process. Please feel free to copy/paste content as helpful, sourcing Action Canada’s report. For any questions, please email: [email protected].

Click here to download our submission.

The deadline to participate in the consultation is December 15, 2018. For more information, visit: https://www.ontario.ca/page/for-the-parents

Action Canada looks forward engaging in further CSE curriculum review in all Provinces and Territories towards the goal of ensuring consistent access to the highest quality sex-ed across jurisdictions.

Ontario CSE submission FINAL

Press Release: 150+ international parliamentarians in Ottawa to advance sexual and reproductive rights at IPCI Conference

Ottawa – Parliamentarians and development experts from around the world are meeting in Ottawa from October 22-23 for the International Parliamentarians Conference of the Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action (IPCI).

The IPCI Conference, which was first hosted in Canada sixteen years ago, will bring together more than 150 parliamentarians who champion sexual and reproductive health and rights, including the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s Minister of International Development.

As secretariat to the Canadian Association of Parliamentarians on Population and Development, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights is the Canadian non-profit co-hosting this conference alongside the Government of Canada, the Inter-American Parliamentary Group on Population and Development, the United Nations Population Fund, and the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development.

At a time of global backlash against women’s reproductive choices, the rights of LGBTQI people, and young people’s access to sex-ed, the IPCI conference provides an international space where parliamentarians can strategize ways to advance progressive laws and policies, eliminate discriminatory laws and policies, and advocate for increased funding toward sexual and reproductive health and rights issues – domestically and globally.

“More and more, we’re seeing Canada demonstrate increased support for global and domestic sexual and reproductive health and rights,” says Sandeep Prasad, Executive Director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. Adding that, “parliamentarians in Canada and internationally have a role to play in ensuring sustained political leadership on the most stigmatized and neglected health and rights issues, namely, safe abortion care, comprehensive and inclusive sex-ed, and young people’s sexual health.”

Canadian parliamentarians have been instrumental in safeguarding access to abortion, adding gender identity and expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination, and advocating for human rights-based approaches in the development of new laws and policies domestically and internationally through Canada’s development assistance.

By the end of the two-day conference, participants will generate a forward-looking, action-oriented declaration that builds upon previous IPCI commitments and provides clear direction to further realize sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world.

Action Canada is among the Canadian civil society organizations who are looking to Canada and all parliamentarians attending the conference to hold firm on their commitments to sexual and reproductive health and rights and to mobilize towards greater support for these issues as a community of champions.

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Media Contact
Ani Colekessian
[email protected]
613.241.4474 ext. 7

NOTES TO EDITORS

  • Sandeep Prasad is available for interview before, during and after the conference.
  • Parliamentarians from Canada and other countries will be available for interviews throughout the IPCI Conference. See attachment for complete list.
  • Press passes are available for reporters on the day-of and obtained at the registration desk.
  • Visit http://ipciconference.org/pages/speakers/ for a full list of speakers and additional conference information.
  • A reception will take place on October 22, 2018 from 5:30-8:30 at the Sir John A. Macdonald Building, hosted by the Canadian Association of Midwives, the UNFPA, and the CAPPD for attending parliamentarians, in collaboration with the Speaker of the Senate of Canada, the Hon. George Furey and the Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada, the Hon. Geoff Regan. Midwives from several countries will be on hand to demonstrate midwifery procedures and answer questions about their work. Reporters who wish to attend must RSVP by email to [email protected]
  • Parliamentarians from the following states will attend: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Liberia, Lithuania, Madagascar, Malawi, Mongolia, Montserrat, Niger, Niger, Palestine, Peru, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, South Sudan, St. Kitts and Nevis, Surinam, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, The Netherlands, The Philippines, Togo, Uganda, United Kingdom.

 

Why Politicians are Trying to Rob a Generation of their Right to Sex-Ed

Sex-ed, when done well, saves lives, so what young people stand to lose in this fight is clear: health, safety and wellbeing.

Op-Ed by Action Canada
Originally published in the Huffington Post

Sex-ed has become a hot political topic across the country.

At the same time as tens of thousands of Ontario school students staged walkouts to protest the return of an outrageously outdated health curriculum, social conservatives in British Columbia are banding together to run municipal election platforms against LGBTQ curriculum content.

For many parents, voters and politicians, sex-ed is understood as part of the health and wellbeing of young people. At the same time, we’re seeing a rise in the exploitation of people’s fears with misinformation to win political points.

What young people stand to lose in this fight is clear: health, safety and wellbeing. Sex-ed, when done well, saves lives. Comprehensive and inclusive sex-ed leads to declining STI and unintended pregnancy rates, the prevention of gender-based violence, and increased school safety for LGBTQ students. When sex-ed uses an explicit human rights-based approach, it even increases open dialogue with parents about sex and relationships.

Those very facts should be enough to end the debate. Yet despite the research and overwhelming parental support for sex-ed in schools, a small but vocal minority who want it abolished are being rewarded by a disproportionate amount of media attention and political success.

The backlash to a resource that was developed in collaboration with the B.C. Ministry of Education to create safer learning environments for LGBTQ students is disturbingly similar to what transpired in Ontario.

Rallies are being held in front of the provincial legislature, rampant misinformation about the content of the toolkit and lesson plans is spreading, and political platforms are being built to roll-back the resource in schools where it’s currently being used and to ban it from schools where it isn’t.

The lobbying success of these groups in B.C., like Ontario, is a symptom of the growing political influence of a once-fringe brand of social conservatism. Conservatives are being told that their worldview is under attack and that the classroom is an appropriate venue to wage war against the human rights of women, girls and LGBTQ youth.

A genuine fight for human rights and freedoms is never won at the expense of others.

The morality showdown is cleverly cloaked in language appropriated from a human rights lexicon. Parental rights are pitted against the health and rights of young people, as if it’s a zero-sum game. Freedom of parental expression is invoked to curtail freedom of gender expression. Freedom of religion is used to undermine support for sexual minorities and the notion that a robust health education will benefit all of our children.

Misinformation about what is being taught is being used to gain political support under the guise of protecting children.

In the end it comes down to this: human rights are interconnected and equal, they extend only insofar as they don’t harm another person. A genuine fight for human rights and freedoms is never won at the expense of others.

Freedom of expression, for example, cannot override people’s right to health, to education and to live free from violence and discrimination; it cannot override the right to sex-ed, which is enshrined in international human rights laws and protected by global experts such as the World Health Organization.

In Ontario, bolstered by the many complaints made by young people and parents, the Ontario Human Rights Commission filed a notice of intervention last week with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to protect the rights of girls and LGBTQ students who will suffer the most from sub-par sex-ed.

In B.C., resistance to backlash has taken the form of a youth-led campaign called “Sex ed is Our Right.”

Every one of us is entitled to receive relevant, accurate education and health information throughout our lives, and no government has the authority to deny it to an entire generation.

Resistance matters and your voice counts. If you believe in every person’s right to live a safe, healthy life that is free from violence, make yourself heard. Young people need you.

October Update: Abortion, sex-ed, human rights

Information and updates on sexual and reproductive health and rights this month:

Alberta’s New K-4 Curriculum has Serious Gaps around Gender and Sexual Orientation

Alberta has updated their K-4 curriculum, and Action Canada welcomes the steps they have taken to consult parents and civil society at large. We are pleased to see the inclusion of lessons geared towards promoting consent, healthy relationships and cultural diversity. However, we are deeply concerned with the complete lack of content about sexual orientation and gender (including identity and expression, as well as challenging gender norms, stereotypes, and the gender binary) in the new K-4 curriculum.

Action Canada was among the organizations consulted by the government of Alberta, regarding internationally recognized standards for sexuality education. Both the education and health ministries were informed about the importance of a human rights-based approach to education. While we are pleased to see that lens reflected in some of the content developed, the failure to integrate any discussion around gender and/or sexual orientation represents a huge gap in the curriculum that must be addressed for young people in Alberta to enjoy their right to health and to non-discrimination.

Curricula focused on how gender and power shape young people’s experience of the world is most effective at improving health outcomes, especially in reducing STIs and unintended pregnancies (Haberland and Rogow, 2015). It is crucial to integrate gender discussions (including challenging gender norms, scripts, and binaries) into “sex-ed” content like consent and healthy relationships.

Evidence also shows a critical connection between comprehensive, inclusive sex-ed and decreasing gender-based violence, including homophobic and transphobic bullying, sexual harassment and assault (UNESCO 2018; Baams, Dubas, Van Aken, 2017). We strongly recommend the inclusion of age-appropriate content on sexual orientation (including LGBTQ+ families) and gender, both in all of its diversity, as well as the ways gender norms, scripts, and binaries are shaped by power.

All young people have a right to high quality, evidence-based, comprehensive sexuality education (which includes information on gender and sexual orientation), and all governments have an obligation to ensure those rights.

Without this content, the government of Alberta is actively failing to support the health and wellbeing of young people, particularly LGBTQ+ kids and families. We hope that further work will be done to include this content and are willing and able to continue to support Alberta’s education and health ministers in filling this gap before it negatively affects students.

Action Canada works across all jurisdictions to strengthen the quality of sex-ed curricula students receive through access to expert, up-to-date, human-rights based resources and will continue to work with provinces and territories across the country engaging in curricula reform that meets the needs of all students in Canada.

Why sex ed plays a role in the fight against sexual violence

Ottawa Citizen TRACEY LINDEMAN

Sexual education for students has become a political flashpoint in Ontario.

The Ford government’s decision to repeal more progressive Wynne-era school curriculum has resulted in the omission of subjects such as gender identity, tech safety and consent.

It’s a move that has polarized Ontarians. As the province moves ahead with consultations on what kind of curriculum will be introduced, experts say the stakes go beyond preventing infections and diseases, to the root of a culture plagued by sexual violence.

In Canada, 20 per cent of women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes — a fact that hasn’t changed in at least 30 years. Statistics Canada says lesbians and bisexual women are at even higher risk of sexual violence. In some Indigenous communities in Ontario, as many as 90 per cent of women have reported being assaulted. In 2016, there were 93,000 Canadians who reported being victims of domestic violence; 79 per cent of them were women. Between 1997 and 2016, 1,800 people were killed by an intimate partner.

“High-profile sexual assault cases like the Ghomeshi case, along with the significant rates of sexual violence in our communities and on campuses, clearly suggest that more needs to be done, and more needs to be done at an earlier stage,” says Sandeep Prasad, the executive director of Action Canada For Sexual Health and Rights.

Experts say that getting children early education about notions such as consent is key to reducing the level of sexual violence in our society.

Control groups in research and youth anti-violence programs such as the U.S.-based Safe Dates have found that recurring conversations with kids about gender equality, power dynamics and consent help reduce rates of sexual violence.

Chris Farley Ratcliffe, executive director of Planned Parenthood Ottawa, says he’s concerned that waiting too long to have these kinds of talks with young people will have serious adverse effects.

“The behavioural change that’s required for people to get an in-depth understanding of consent and of healthy relationships is not a one-and-done workshop. It needs to be repeated interventions,” says Farley Ratcliffe. “By eliminating consent conversations and starting to build that understanding in the elementary years, we’ve losing a lot of behavioural-change time.

Setting new standards for sex ed

Across Canada, the story of sex education has historically been one of anatomy and preventing negative consequences such as sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy, Prasad says.

Some estimates date the origins of sex ed in Ontario to the late 1800s. At the time, it was considered a tool to help the spread of venereal disease. The sexual liberation movement of the 1960s — and later the AIDS crisis of the 1980s — helped shape conventional sex ed to include information about unwanted pregnancies and social issues related to teen sex.

Click here to read the full article in Ottawa Citizen.