Youth Voices Matter: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Young People in Armenia

The following article is an excerpt from our latest printed Ecosprinter titled Reclaim Your Rights! – The Social Issue. We decided to bring you the articles from this edition in a digital form as well.

by Lusine Kosakyan

To date, young people are among the most affected right holders both in Armenia and worldwide by persisting inequalities, particularly regarding their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). In Armenia, insufficient statistical data and the absence of a strategy and national plan make it difficult to evaluate the situation of the youth’s reproductive rights. SRHR play a key role in the realization of other human rights and hold a cross-cutting centrality in achieving social jus-tice and sustainable development. Women* and girls’ empowerment is on the line.

* Article 5 of RA Law on Reproductive Health and Repro-ductive Rights refers to the adolescents’ rights to acquire sexuality education. Article 5.2 of the same law states: “Ado-lescent sexual education in secondary schools and in other educational institutions should be carried out by profession-ally trained persons in close cooperation with families, health services, non-governmental organizations, and the public”.  

In the following article, I will discuss young people’s SRHR issues by focusing on 1) the right to access appropriate sexuality-related education; 2) young people’s participation in decision-making processes.

Teenagers have a right to sex education under the Law on Education of Armenia*. However, there are gaps that need to be fulfilled, such as education of health (physical activity, healthy nutrition, psychological health, etc.), education of sexuality (sexual identity and orientation, tolerance, the prevention of risk sexual behaviour, contraception, etc.) and preparation for family (methods of planning, marriage, gender equality, pregnancy, needs of infant, etc.). Despite the number of hours devoted to sexual education**, it does not properly cover all aspects of SRHR issues.

** See, ‘Biology’ 8th grade, ‘Healthy lifestyle’ incorporated in the Physical education subject, ‘Safe activities’ included in ‘Preliminary Preparedness’ subject 

In the Armenian context, sexuality is presented as a negative concept and sexual activities are associated with guilt, fear, and disease especially for unmarried women and girls. Disappointingly, women are not free to make decisions in regard to their bodies and private lives. The word “sex” is constantly being avoided especially in the school context, which is inherited from the Soviet past. As a result, young people and adolescents are denied their rights to health and development, education, safety, privacy, and bodily autonomy, among being the target of other human rights violations.

In order to fill the gap, many awareness-raising projects are carried out by local NGOs all over the country.  Yet,  the  organizations  providing  sexual  education training or openly speaking about sexuality  issues  are  often  discredited  or  accused  of  spreading immorality and destroying our “nation-al”  values  and  norms.  The recent attack of pseudo-activists against a children’s book on sexuality, developed by a local women’s rights organization, got wild.  Though  it  gained  the  attention  of  the  government and policy makers, the organization was accused of spreading child porn, and the case is  at  the  time  of  writing  in  the  prosecution  pro-cess. These kinds of aggressions weaken the local feminist  organizations  and  discourage  any  kind  of  intervention  aimed  at  an  integrated  approach  to sexual education.

Young  people’s  voices  must  be  heard:  generally,  young  people  are  represented  invisible  at  the  policy  level  in  both  national  and  international  contexts.  Whenever  taken  into  account,  they  are  mostly  treated  as  a  homogenous  group,  ignoring  their  diversity  in  terms  of  age,  gender,  socioeconomic background, civil status, whether they are living with HIV, and whether they are in or out of school, among other issues. As a result, minority groups of young people are rendered more invisible and vulnerable than others. Thus, sometimes legal   and   social   projects   fail   to   acknowledge   young people’s specific needs, including their SRHR.

Young people seek to take more control over their lives  so  that  they  can  make  important  life  decisions  on  their  own.  Communities  need  to  create  an  enabling  environment  for  meaningful  youth  participation  in  the  planning,  implementation,  monitoring  and  evaluation  of  policies  and  projects that affect their lives, at all levels and across all sectors.

Youth  voices  and  priorities  must  be  treated  as  central: young people have repeatedly shown the willingness, commitment and capacity to be at the table and participate in policy-making processes, to  develop  and  implement  sustainable  policies  and  programmes  that  truly  promote  young  people’s  health,  rights,  and  wellbeing,  youth  voices  and priorities as milestones. Realizing  health,  demographic,  social,  state  and  strategic  importance  for  the  country,  as  well  as  the  creation  of  a  plan  aimed  at  improvement  of  reproductive health and rights of young people is extremely important now in Armenia.

Lusine Kosakyan is a young dynamic human rights advocate from Armenia. She is a co-founder of Frontline Youth Network aimed at connecting and empowering rural youth. Lusine is passionate about peacebuilding, especially with the focus on its relations to gender, as well as feminism, particularly gender education and violence against women.