1, 2, 3, 4 questions for: Esther Corona Vargas
Esther Corona Vargas is a clinical psychologist from Mexico, with over fifty years of experience in sexuality education, sexual and reproductive health and gender issues. She is president of the Education and International Relation Committees of the World Association for Sexual Health and consultant of international organizations of the United Nations, such as UNESCO, PAHO and UNFPA.
Speaking from Mexico, she explains the challenges on sexuality education in Latin America and the Caribbean, and emphasizes the importance of a permanent public policy perspective, which, among other issues, should be secular and not based only in biology.
What are the characteristics of sex education in the region?
I don’t think that a single characteristic can describe sex education in the region since it is a very diverse region with different levels of social development and distinct educational sectors. However, we can say that sex education in various countries of the region is ahead of many countries in the world, as it is based on human rights with a gender focus and respect for diversity that goes far beyond the limited biology-based approaches we find in other regions. In addition to anchoring it firmly in secular education, we need to strengthen this approach.
In analyzing how sex education has developed in the region, what recent changes do you consider to be milestones? It is clear that the region’s history is one of “two steps forward and one step back.” However, the “Education to prevent Declaration" (2008) was certainly an important milestone, although I feel that it has not been used as extensively as it could be. I believe that the most important international milestones is the consensus that has been reached on the issue through the production of basic materials made available by UNESCO, the Population Council, the International Planned Parenthood Federation
(IPPF), the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS), and other organizations that set minimum standards and establish common approaches which can be adopted and adapted nationally and locally.
What are the main challenges to successfully incorporate a sex education programme into a school?
The main challenge today continues to be a political one, that is, how to respond to changes by government and administrations without losing all the progress that has been made. Analyzing our history, we find that sex education is incorporated more or less easily, depending on its acceptance within a particular government and how it views and understands sexuality. Despite these ups and downs, the technical capacity and favourable attitudes among teachers have been constant factors. This is why teacher training in sex education is so important, both among teachers already in service and in teacher training programs at schools and universities.
Another challenge is the need to incorporate the experience and vision of organized civil society, which usually has a long history in sex education and has remained stable through changes in administration. .
Education and health must necessarily have a dialogue in order to tackle sex education efficiently. What are the main challenges and the greatest opportunities for bringing these two sectors together?
The ideal situation is inter-sectoral dialogue, which is sometimes difficult at the national level due to the different mandates and priorities of each sector. However, the two areas can sometimes collaborate better at a provincial, state and, above all, local level. Many countries have inter-sectoral projects such as national commissions or programs for gender, HIV prevention, human rights, population, or other similar projects that are natural opportunities for cooperation and are relevant for comprehensive sex education.