In her teaching career spanning over 20 years Vinkouk Duang Khammouan has met many female students experiencing unplanned pregnancies.
She sees an urgent need to help young people understand more about sexual and reproductive health and gender issues.
Vinkouk’s concerns reflect the reality of the high risks that young people in the Lao PDR face in terms of sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence.
Despite the remarkable progress made in social and economic development, the Lao PDR has a high rate of early marriage and the highest adolescent birth rate in Southeast Asia.
Almost 75 per cent of unmarried women aged 15-19 do not have access to contraception even though they wish to use it.
Unlike many others, Vinkouk never blamed the girls. Instead, she thinks it is unfair that the girls have to suffer the consequences of their lack of knowledge about reproductive health and safe sex practices.
She believes that gender inequality is also a key factor that affects girls: “Too many men consider women and girls as inferior to them.
This has led to disrespecting the girls’ wishes and prevailing gender-based violence.”She stressed that both boys and girls must know that they are equals, and learning about important topics including gender and sexuality is be essential.
With support from UNFPA, the Ministry of Education and Sports revised the comprehensive sexuality education teachers’ guidebook in line with the International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education and the national context.
To increase the numbers of teachers delivering comprehensive sexuality education, the revised teachers’ guidebook was also applied in eight teachers’ training institutions, including in the Dongkhamxang Teacher Training College where Vinkouk works.
Two comprehensive sexuality education teachers in Donghkhamxang College, including Vinkouk, who is a master trainer, are doing their best to deliver comprehensive sexuality education to over 1,000 male and female students in the college, covering topics on relationships, life skills, gender, child rights, sexual and reproductive health and safe use of information, communications technology.
She hopes that there will be more teachers qualified to teach comprehensive sexuality education, particularly teacher trainees.
“As teachers we need to be equipped to deal with sexual and reproductive health issues to help our communities,” said Vinkouk. She firmly believes that young people need to understand their own bodies to prevent unplanned pregnancies and practice safe sex, which will help them to finish their education, find decent jobs, and lead better lives. However, sometimes she feels frustrated.
“Other teachers laugh at me because I always talk about sexual health and distributing condoms. They think that I encourage students to have sex.” This is a common myth, comprehensive sexuality education does not lead to earlier sexual activity or riskier sexual behaviour. In fact, these programmes reduce risky behaviours.
To address the sexual and reproductive health needs and vulnerabilities of young people, the government of Laos has incorporated the promotion of comprehensive sexuality education in schools as part of the overall human capital development.
The Ministry of Education and Sports has a number of concrete strategies to provide age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education in primary, secondary schools as well as in technical and vocational education and training institutes and teachers training colleges. Hundreds of teachers were trained and comprehensive sexuality education educational material was integrated into the educational system.
With US$362 spent to build the capacities of one teacher on delivering comprehensive sexuality education, we ensure 116 youth are receiving comprehensive sexuality education from each trained teacher.
“Comprehensive sexuality education empowers young people with knowledge and skills to make life-changing decisions regarding their wellbeing, including mental health and relationships. Increasing the numbers of qualified comprehensive sexuality education teachers is a key investment towards unleashing the full potential of young people in the country,” emphasised Mariam A. Khan, UNFPA Representative in the Lao PDR.
UNFPA is also supporting the development of various innovative and youth-friendly initiatives such as “Me, My Body, My Future, My Planet” campaign, through which young people acquire knowledge on healthy behaviors, take action and share their social engagement for the environment.
Recently, UNFPA in collaboration with the Center for Communication and Education for Health, Ministry of Health also launched a free mobile app “Noi-Yakhoo” that provides young boys and girls with important content as questions and answers on their reproductive and sexual health and wellbeing.
A series of videos are being prepared in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Sports to be broadcasted on media and TV. They will explore and educate young people on various subjects related to sexual and reproductive health such as understanding the body, the value of respect, and relationships.
This work directly contributes to realising the Lao government’s commitments made during the Nairobi Summit on the International Conference on Population and Development 25 to invest in the Noi 2030 Framework which represents all interventions to advance the rights of adolescent girls in the Lao PDR for ending preventable maternal deaths, reducing child marriage and teenage pregnancy and ensuring that every woman and a couple can plan if when and how many children to have.
The Lao government’s commitments include: By 2030, Comprehensive sexuality education fully integrated into school curriculums nationwide through the age-appropriate curriculum in primary, secondary, and technical and vocational education and training institutions.
Source: Lao News Agency