Peru has come a long way when it comes to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). Both the government and civil society organizations have implemented innovative approaches. They have developed new games and teaching aids and introduced effective strategies to train teachers and health care professionals. Yet, despite this progress, many young people do not have the information they need to keep themselves healthy and safe, and to make decisions about their lives.
Over the past 25 years, the organization I lead, Instituto de Educación y Salud (IES) has joined other nongovernmental organizations in pushing for rights-based and age-appropriate CSE in Peru. We have integrated CSE into the curricula of educational institutions, trained school teachers and staff, and otherwise promoted the implementation of CSE. Our objective has always been to make children’s and adolescents’ right to sexuality education a reality. This has not been an easy task, to say the least.
When we take stock, here’s what we know is going well: There are public policies supporting CSE, educational materials with strong content, and education officials who speak out in support. On the other hand, two challenges have prevented true institutionalization. Many of the existing programs have been funded by international donors, with the hope that Peruvian authorities would eventually endorse and fund these initiatives. This has not happened. The other barrier is that efforts have focused on only particular regions of the country, thus failing to achieve universal access. These persistent challenges reflect a lack of political commitment at the highest levels.
In recent years, CSE has been relegated to the Peruvian “tutoring hour,” a very short amount of time during the school day. This also means that CSE is not being integrated into other school subjects across the curriculum, as we had hoped. Limited teacher training in sexuality education also seriously hinders its implementation in schools.
We in the NGO sector are clear that it is the state’s responsibility to create an enabling environment for children and adolescents to be able to exercise their rights; our activism is firmly rooted in this belief. We will continue to push for CSE to be on the government’s agenda, as we know strong policy guidelines and curricula mean nothing until our leaders make CSE a priority and put significant resources behind it. Until then, civil society organizations will continue to play an urgent and vital role by directly working with schools and state-level educational institutions. We can do a lot more to strengthen pedagogical resources and capacities.
Quality education is one that includes learning on sexuality, sexual and reproductive health, gender, empowerment, and autonomy. This type of learning is essential to the development and well being of our children and youth. As one young woman in Callao, a port city outside of Lima, so eloquently put it: “I’d like to talk about what happens when we fall in love, how to live together in harmony, and how to avoid violence between friends and intimate partners.”