Sex Ed Lessons from Southern Neighbors

William Smith

A United Nations Economic and Social Council meeting concluded last week with unequivocal support for comprehensive sex education throughout Latin America and the Caribbean to help stem the HIV epidemic and promote overall health.

A path-breaking meeting convened in Jamaica by the United Nations Economic and Social Council and focused on Latin America and the Caribbean concluded last week with agreement of unequivocal support for comprehensive sex education as a foundation for stemming the HIV epidemic and promoting overall health. Health and education ministers from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean joined representatives of many UN agencies and civil society organizations to address HIV/AIDS within the context of broader development issues, lay out the region’s priorities and consider progress and challenges in curbing the epidemic and in reaching ambitious targets for treatment and care. This ministerial review was held in part to prepare for a global meeting later this year in Geneva.

What came out of meeting in Jamaica was intended to be a genuine articulation of the region’s needs. What continues to emerge is unequivocal support–by governments and civil society–for comprehensive sex education. No euphemisms. No politicking around the edges. 
Last August, just prior to the International AIDS meeting in Mexico City, these same ministers gathered and endorsed a landmark ministerial declaration committing their countries to begin reforms in their health and education sectors to institutionalize and sustain the delivery of comprehensive sex education. And, last week in Jamaica, countries did not reopen debate on political matters related to sex education, but rather reaffirmed their commitments to make this change happen.

The Mexico City Declaration on Sex Education and HIV Prevention also sets out ambitious targets. Perhaps most importantly, one goal is to achieve a 75 percent reduction in each country of schools that do not provide comprehensive sex education by 2015. Countries also agreed to halve the current number of adolescents not covered by adequate reproductive and sexual health services. In other words, the goals are about sex education, but also about sex education being the appropriate gateway and empowering mechanism through which young people access sexual and reproductive health services. These two advances go hand in hand and the Jamaica meeting endorsed the assembling of a technical team to bring the promise of the Mexico City Declaration to fruition.

To this extent, the meeting in Jamaica marks a transition point where the paper commitments of the Mexico City Declaration become concrete priorities reaffirmed by political leaders and given additional resonance across the region. It also marks the involvement of the UN system in seeking to magnify and support countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as they attempt to make good on their commitments. And, finally, civil society is increasingly recognizing the promise that the Mexico City Declaration holds for achieving success on better reproductive and sexual health in their countries and throughout the region.

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The message from the region is clear and, now, donors must also follow suit. Again, the UN system is increasing support to implement the Declaration, and representatives from the World Bank and the Global Fund attended the meeting in Jamaica and heard the chorus of consensus. And, here is where it comes home – with the US being the largest donor on HIV/AIDS and development in the region, it too must be educated and align its funding rationale with the region’s priorities. “prevention through education” is the mantra and the US can responsibly re-engage with leaders in the region after eight disastrous years of ideological and political unilateralism by supporting the Mexico City Declaration’s bold agenda.

As we approach the first year anniversary of the Declaration on August 1, it is fully recognized that much works remains. But all the right players are being assembled and the Mexico City Declaration on Sex Education holds the promise to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights in the region in the most important, concrete and sustainable ways.
More detailed information on the Ministerial Review meeting can be found at

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