26 May 2010

At Pill's 50th Anniversary, Sex Ed More Important Than Ever

Around the country this month, countless tributes, articles and campaigns have rightly celebrated the birth control pill on its 50th anniversary. But amid all the much-deserved hoopla, we would do well to remember that a pill alone can never be "the great liberator" of women's lives. Though its development was a revolutionary step in the right direction, research shows that education -- about sex, sexuality, and the choices we all make in relation to the two -- remains the key to securing the reproductive health of women and girls in this nation and around the world -- not least of all, on the national front, in the aftermath of Bush's federally mandated abstinence-only curricula.

With those facts in mind, the Ms. Foundation's Sexuality Education Advocacy Initiative (SEAI) has been fighting since 2005 to make comprehensive sexuality education available to students in every state in our nation. The initiative helps to build support for responsible sexuality education school-by-school, district-by-district and state-by-state, understanding that each community faces a unique combination of issues around local leadership, financial capacity and political climate. The goal of SEAI is to bring about positive policy changes to ensure that the majority of young people in the US are provided with the information and education they need to help them make truly informed decisions about their sexuality and sexual health, including: access to a full range of contraceptive options; an understanding of STI and HIV prevention and treatment; economic access to reproductive care; and the right to abortion.

Because of the efforts of thousands of women's health advocates, community leaders, doctors and responsible parents across this country, today, more women and girls have access to the knowledge that will help them make informed decisions about their reproductive health than ever before in our history. But too many of us are still denied this essential education – denied the ability to truly understand our bodies and take control of our own sexual health. That is why we at the Ms. Foundation continue to support organizations that possess the local knowledge and strategic relationships to ensure that responsible sexuality education is available to us all.

For example:
One grantee, the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund (TFNEF), recently succeeded in passing more stringent School Health Advisory Council accountability requirements and securing a hearing on comprehensive sexuality education legislation in the Texas House – for the first time in 14 years. High local teenage pregnancy rates have motivated administrators in several North Texas districts to take action and, with Ms. Foundation support, TFNEF has positioned itself to channel this energy into the development and implementation of expanded sexuality curricula.

Another grantee, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ), is currently identifying and training local advocates to appear at local events, in order to broaden community support for comprehensive sexuality education. Along with their partner in California’s central valley, ACT for Women and Girls (a Ms. Foundation reproductive rights grantee), CLRJ's immediate goal is to catalyze enough representation from young girls, parents and teachers to pass a progressive and far-reaching school board resolution this Spring that solidifies the commitment, finances and will to implement sexuality education in its district.
Grantees like these and others are winning the fight for responsible sexuality curricula. They are proving the impact that positive conversations about sexuality can have when it comes to improving the lives of women and girls from Ann Arbor to Addis Ababa. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Pill, we must also work to move beyond the "risk management" approach that both the Pill and "teen pregnancy prevention" embody, as they do little to guarantee the physical and emotional well-being of young-people -- nor do they ensure that sex education goes beyond, "Take the Pill, don't ask questions." It will really be time to cheer when every girl and woman in America -- and around the world -- has access not only to the Pill itself, but also to the information and services they need to make informed decisions about their reproductive health.

Hopefully, not long from now, that's exactly what we'll be celebrating.

Sunny Daly
Corporate and Foundation Relations Manager
Ms. Foundation for Women

Sunny Daly is the author of Changing Images of the Birth Control Pill: 1960-1973 (2008). She has a Masters in Gender and Women's Studies from the American University in Cairo.

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