Based on presentation delivered at the Advocacy for Comprehensive Sexuality Education meeting, October 2015, Washington D.C.
Rutgers has a longstanding history of advocacy for CSE: the organization began prioritizing CSE programmes during the 1990s, with concerted advocacy efforts from 2007 onward. This focus is based on the recognition that young people consistently lack essential, correct and comprehensive information about their SRHR, combined with the fact that in many countries, there is no legal or policy framework in place to enable inclusion of CSE in school curricula. As a result, programmes have been developed and implemented in 13 countries in Africa and Asia, including Pakistan, South Africa, Uganda and Viet Nam.
The initiative’s strategy for programme design and development sought to develop contextually relevant CSE modules and provide support for further implementation. It also aimed to support partners in advocating for implementation of these modules, or for increasing the comprehensiveness of existing national curricula – and worked to connect these efforts with advocacy at the international level, including setting norms and influencing the globally accepted concept of CSE.
Many of the implementing countries shared the same or similar core challenges, such as working within the budget constraints of ministries, and within hierarchical, top-down decision-making structures in which voices from the community level are often not heard or respected. Other issues included a culture of weak accountability, in which the commitments made by parliamentarians often do not lead to action, and a context where many of the partners who advocate for CSE work in silos, such as organizations focusing on SRHR, human rights, HIV or women’s rights, as well as those working at different levels.
A review of case studies from implementing countries, including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Pakistan and Tanzania, reveals core strategies and practices that were crucial to success of the advocacy efforts. These included:
Focusing advocacy efforts on revising teacher training curricula, and advocating for budgets to be allocated to refresher and in-service training for teachers. Investing in research that demonstrates the training needs of teachers, and the educational and information needs of adolescents and youth. Creating a broad alliance that brings diverse stakeholders to the table, ensuring the participation of the most affected groups in advocacy initiatives, including the voices of young people, teachers, school administrators and district educational officials. Making the links between activities aimed at awareness raising, implementation and advocacy. Ensuring monitoring and accountability mechanisms are built into the structure of sexuality education programmes; this includes evaluating exam questionnaires and official school monitoring visits. Working with members of parliament, bringing them into contact with local programmes to generate political support. Building ownership of the programme within ministries of education, including through recruitment of lead trainers from within the department, delivering capacity-building sessions to the curriculum wing, and listening to and taking into account the concerns of ministry staff at all stages. Linking advocacy at the national and local levels to enhance effectiveness and sustainability. Organizing regional and international forums for exchanging knowledge and experiences in order to re-energize advocacy efforts, fostering greater regional coordination, and enabling mutual learning from successes and setbacks.