Transforming Education Summit is approaching – is comprehensive sexuality education on the agenda?

On 16, 17 and 19 September 2022 heads of state, civil society, youth activists and other stakeholders are meeting for the Transforming Education Summit (TES) in New York. The backdrop for the summit is also linked to UNESCO’s report Reimagining our futures together: A new social contract for educationwhich emphasises the need for a global effort to build back better after the Covid-19 pandemic, with the overarching goal of achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 Quality Education.

Countdown 2030 Europe consortium partners have attended several national consultations and closely followed preparations for the summit. We have been present both during the Transforming Education pre-summit in Paris on June 28-30 and will be present during the upcoming summit in New York.

Ever since the TES consultations began, the Countdown 2030 Europe consortium has called for an explicit and clear focus on gender equality, including girls’ education and comprehensive sexuality education. We have expressed our concern on the overall lack of reference to gender equality.

The Countdown 2030 Europe consortium is however pleased to see that ‘Inclusive, equitable, safe and healthy schools’ is one of the five Thematic Action Tracks for TES, and that Gender Transformative Education is emphasised as one of the sub-themes under this Action Track. We are also satisfied that the TES agenda for Leader’s Day has gender equality in education as one of six “Spotlight sessions”, subsequently being a main priority for transforming education and mobilizing high-level political support for action.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education is an integral part of education

In the ‘Vision Statement of Secretary-General on Transforming Education’ the Secretary-General states that he urges all countries to outline concrete areas for action “including measures to support equity, inclusion and non-discrimination as well as gender transformative curricula that include comprehensive sexuality education and helps to address gender-based prejudice, norms or stereotypes”.

We are pleased to see these references to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in the Secretary-General’s vision statement. An integral part of education is educating girls, adolescents and young people about sexuality and bodily autonomy. CSE is essential for the health and well-being of young people. CSE has been shown to increase knowledge, clarify and strengthen positive values and attitudes, increase skills to be able to make informed decisions and act upon them, improve perceptions about peer groups and social norms, increase communication with parents or other trusted adults. Furthermore, evidence is growing on the potential of CSE to contribute to outcomes including preventing and reducing gender-based and intimate partner violence and discrimination. In this regard, CSE is a promising and critical strategy by which to shift norms and attitudes and empower young people. CSE must be ensured as part of school curricula at all schools and at all levels and implemented through a whole school approach. Likewise, CSE should also be better promoted in protracted emergencies. It is crucial that girls, adolescents and young people living in conflict-affected countries or humanitarian settings continues to have access to CSE.

We are also pleased to see a recognition of the disproportionate impact on access to education for adolescent girls and other marginalized groups, including sexual orientation, gender identity and expression as a compounding disadvantage, in the Vision Statement of the Secretary-General. The Statement has a vision for improving education for all and accelerating action on SDG 4, as the Secretary General offers the vision statement as a call for implementation.

Expected outcomes

There is an expectation that the Summit will result in national and international commitments to transform education, greater public engagement and support for transforming education, and the Secretary General’s Summary. These outcomes are expected to capture the knowledge and commitments generated by the Summit and its preparatory process, informing Summit follow-up including through the SDG4-Education 2030 High Level Steering Committee and the proposed intergovernmental Summit of the Future in 2023.

The TES is one of several upcoming occasions where education is on the agenda. The special theme for the fifty-sixth session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD), in 2023, will be “Population, education and sustainable development”. The Priority theme for the sixty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. These upcoming sessions are important opportunities to put CSE on the multilateral agenda and to make gains that reflect the centrality of CSE in achieving sustainable development, gender equality and advancing the rights and empowerment of all women and girls. TES will be an important starting point for these upcoming conversations on gender equality in education.

What will be the Summit’s concrete outcomes, remains to be seen, but we ask that gender equality, girls’ education and comprehensive sexuality education be prioritized.

By: Vilde Graff Senje (Sex og Politikk) Kristine Bjartnes (Sex og Politikk), Liv i Dali (DFPA) and Preethi Sundaram (DFPA).

Illustration by Olga Mrozek for IPPF EN and Fine Acts.