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.