Let’s Talk About Sex Education and Human Rights.
Meghan Campbell, University of Birmingham
Comprehensive sexuality education is a process of learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. It aims to develop respectful relationships and to empower people to protect their human rights throughout their lives. Comprehensive sexuality education underpins is implicit in the Sustainable Development Goals. Despite the high-level political commitment, these goals are currently far from being realised in the lives of millions of people worldwide.
Approaching sex education from a human rights perspective offers new insights in the delivery and design of sex education programmes. Crucially, it opens up a new language, where young people are right holders and can make a positive claim on the state to provide comprehensive and human rights-based sex education. There is strong transformative potential in sex education. It can be a powerful tool to dismantle negative cultural norms on gender relations, sexual orientation and sexual diversity. Sex education can also form part of a holistic strategy on gender-based violence and ensure young people have the knowledge on safe and health sexual relationships.
Human rights also offers a framework to mediate tensions between comprehensive sex education and religious and cultural opposition. Case law from the European Court of Human Rights holds that it is within the state’s margin of appreciation to deny faith-based exemptions to compulsory sex education compulsory so as to ensure autonomous decision making skills and the safety of the child. There is analogous case law denying faith-based schools exemptions to the ban of corporal punishment from the UK and South Africa, in which courts have reasoned that the dignity, security and equality of the child were paramount to religious freedom and belief. Similar arguments can be made to address moral or faith-based exemption to sex education.
I am in partnership with the World Health Organisation and the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights and am producing a short video comparing different strategies around the world in using human rights to protect sex education. This will be released late 2020 or early 2021.