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Comprehensive Sex Education

Every young person has to make  life-changing decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. However many of them cannot access clear, evidence-based information. IPPF's comprehensive sexuality education programmes enable young people to make informed decisions about their sexuality and health, while building life skills and promoting gender equality.

Articles by Comprehensive Sex Education

London_Brook_RSE_60998_IPPF_Laura Lewis_UK_IPPF_1.jpg
05 May 2022

Protecting EU values and rights

Gender inequality and harmful gender norms remain widespread in the EU. While sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are at the core of gender equality and women’s rights and empowerment, their attainment varies greatly across the EU: women and girls, particularly those marginalized by systemic oppression, face significant barriers to sexual and reproductive health care, information and education, which violates their human rights and hinders progress towards gender equality. At the same time, dramatic changes taking place in Europe, from the backlash orchestrated by anti-rights actors to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, threaten progress towards gender equality and many of the rights and values that the EU aims to protect.  In this context, IPPF EN, together with member associations and partners, is working to progress towards a more gender equal world where people in all their diversity are released from harmful gender norms and fully empowered to make decisions over their lives and bodies. To move toward this, we work to strengthen national support in the EU Institutions and Member States for gender equality and women’s rights by: ensuring that policy and decision makers at all levels (EU, National and Local) are creating progressive legislative and policy frameworks that protect and advance gender equality & women’s rights; educating and empowering young people, as a new generation of EU citizens, to become leaders and drivers of the long-term change process needed around societal norms and behaviours; increasing the capacity of civil society actors to act in a strategic and coordinated manner when promoting gender equality and women’s rights.   This work is funded by the European Union through the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values programme which aims to protect and promote Union rights and values as enshrined in the EU Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The programme will contribute to sustain and further develop open, rights-based, democratic, equal and inclusive societies based on the rule of law.

vaska--smiling--white--bg.jpg
08 April 2022

Working with the Roma community and local actors for reproductive freedom

In the Balkans, IPPF members are working hand-in-hand with diverse networks of actors from within and around Roma communities. This work was shaped as the My Body, My Rights project. Our common goal is to strengthen girls’ lifelong reproductive freedom and tackle some of the deep-rooted, systemic obstacles that prevent people - especially women and youth - from living safer and healthier lives. How? By increasing access to care, creating supporting contexts for choice and advocating for investment. Our work is community-driven and based on fostering local partnerships. At the heart of this collective action are Roma volunteers, girls and boys, health mediators and local NGOs, leading grassroots change and advocating for their own unique communities. Doctors, community nurses and teachers are working with them to help deliver lasting impact. And some decision-makers are stepping up and beginning to make much-needed investments in more equitable access to reproductive healthcare. We are proud to share highlights of our work, recommendations to decision-makers and resources for further reading. Explore our new microsite!   

Youth Voices, Youth Choices research report front cover
30 March 2022

Young people’s access to SRH information, education and care in the Western Balkans in Covid times

COVID-19 created the largest health and socio-economic crisis of our generation. Many health systems were pushed to the brink by restrictive measures rushed in to respond to the pandemic, resulting in the deprioritisation of some existing healthcare services. In almost all European countries, COVID-19 had a negative impact on the delivery of vital sexual and reproductive healthcare, including maternal health and family planning, for women and groups that face barriers to accessing care, including young people. The pandemic also uncovered weaknesses within our systems and exposed the fact that countries are not adequately prepared to deal with health emergencies. To help bring about positive change for young people, IPPF European Network is working to strengthen healthcare systems through the project Youth Voices, Youth Choices, and to remove all kinds of barriers preventing youth from accessing essential care in five Balkan countries: Albania; Bosnia & Herzegovina; Bulgaria, Kosovo and North Macedonia. We are focusing particularly on the needs of those living in remote areas, as well as those from communities that face challenging social conditions, such as the Roma. As a basis for this work, we conducted a study to provide us with a clearer picture of the impact of the pandemic on young people’s SRHR. This series of reports presents the findings of the study, carried out by and among youth in five Balkan countries. The reports, available for download below, document young people’s SRH needs and experiences and the perspectives of healthcare providers and other relevant stakeholders on these needs. They also capture the latter’s needs as they deliver services, information and education to young people, building on their experience of COVID-19. Young people are at the heart of this project: they were part of the research teams and as a next step, will join expert groups who will build on these reports to develop recommendations for policy change at national and regional level.

Still Stop Violence one character.PNG
25 November 2021

Sex without consent is rape – so why are governments failing to act?

“Sex without consent is rape”. This statement sounds self-evident. And yet our laws and our lived experiences show that it is still far from being universally recognized and understood. On two recent occasions, watching fiction with friends - Game of Thrones and Basic Instinct - where scenes of rape were depicted, we found ourselves debating whether these were in fact rapes. To me, it was very clear that the female characters on screen did not consent to sex. But since in both scenes, they knew the men, and had previous relationships with them, others felt that this was somehow enough to downplay these situations and question whether they did constitute rape. This brought home for me, once again, how far we still have to go. If my friends, who are pretty committed to gender equality, cannot identify rape in fiction, then what about broader society, and most importantly what about real life?   A societal problem Polls reflect this alarming reality. More than a quarter of Europeans believe that sexual violence can be excused: 27% said that "sexual intercourse without consent can be justifiable" in certain situations, most such circumstances having to do with the behaviour of the victim. When surveys don’t use the word “rape” but factually describe situations that constitute rape, they expose how pervasive it is: a poll in France revealed that out of almost 100 000 female respondents, more than half (53.2%) reported having experienced non-consensual penetrative sex with one or more partners. On the other side of the same coin, recently 63 male students out of 554 surveyed in the UK admitted to having committed 251 sexual assaults, rapes, and other coercive and unwanted incidents. The study also showed that these perpetrators were significantly more likely to believe that women are to blame for being assaulted, and to hold hostile views about women. We are still collectively terrible at identifying, and condemning, sexual violence. It’s not a mystery why. We live in a society which blames victims/survivors, in order to let violent men off the hook: that is the primary function of rape culture. Laws are the result of the patriarchal culture we live in and reflect this toxic mindset. We need urgent and concrete actions to address sexual violence on both fronts: to change legislation, and to change mentalities.   Reflected in legislation In Europe, shockingly, most countries do not criminalise sex without consent. Their laws usually require the use of force or coercion as an additional factor in order for a non-consensual act to be considered as sexual violence. According to a review of the legislation of European countries done by Amnesty International in 2020, only 12 European countries out of 31 analysed had laws that define rape as sex without consent. This is despite the fact that most countries have ratified the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, the first legally binding comprehensive instrument to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. The Convention clearly states that engaging in non-consensual sexual activity constitutes sexual violence. It further says that “consent must be given voluntarily as the result of the person’s free will assessed in the context of the surrounding circumstances”. How is it possible that so many countries ratified this landmark treaty, yet have not changed their legislation to bring it in line with its binding requirements? Inadequate laws on sexual violence have a devastating impact on victims/survivors. They encourage victim blaming, excuse violence, and fail to prosecute rapists. Instead of looking for proof that the perpetrator used enough force or assessing whether the victim/survivor put up enough resistance, the legal system should focus on whether the victim/survivor explicitly consented to sex. And if not, that should be enough to constitute sexual violence. “Yes means Yes” laws represent a necessary change of paradigm to protect victims/survivors more effectively.   The road ahead In June 2021, in a most welcome development only made possible by intense mobilization by women’s rights NGOs, Slovenia changed its law on sexual violence to adopt a consent-based legislative proposal. Spain is also currently reviewing its legislation on sexual violence, to adopt a consent-based model. The “Only Yes Means Yes” bill follows the shocking ‘La Manada’ case, where a group of men were initially found guilty of the lesser offence of sexual abuse instead of rape, because the prosecution could not prove that they used force against the victim/survivor. Other countries must follow suit, urgently. All European countries must ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention, including by changing their legislation to comply with its legal definition of sexual violence. Changing laws and mentalities goes hand in hand: putting an end to rape culture will require not just a change of legislation, but profound societal transformation too. Education is key in that regard. Relationship sexuality education, which teaches children and young people about consent in intimate relationships, is essential [1]. The European Commission is now working on a new legislative proposal to prevent and combat violence against women. This Directive should tackle the issue of sexual violence, and unequivocally adopt the definition of the Istanbul Convention, namely that sex without consent is rape. The Directive should also include comprehensive relationship and sex education as a key prevention measure, to improve young people’s understanding of consent, enable them to identify sexual violence, discourage them from perpetrating it, and empower them to report it.   By Camille Butin, Advocacy Adviser IPPF EN   [1] Facing the facts: the case for comprehensive sexuality education Can education stop abuse? Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Advancing Human Rights, Gender Equality and Improved Sexual and Reproductive Health Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Among Young People—a Qualitative Study Examining the Role of Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Youthspect photo video_0.png
17 February 2022

Young people breaking gender stereotypes

The Youth SpectActors project, implemented in Serbia, Romania, Latvia and Estonia, addresses the root causes of gender-based violence (GBV), namely traditional patriarchal systems based on harmful and rigid gender norms around masculinity and femininity, gender-based discrimination and unequal power relations. Young people are at the centre of our intervention, because of the far-reaching impact of GBV in their lives – as survivors, perpetrators, or bystanders. We believe that young people have a key role they play as change agents. To this end we run theatre-based workshops where boys and girls who participate literally walk in one another's shoes to help challenge and dismantle 'gender roles'. Gender roles are merely roles that we are playing all our lives, and this is why playing them on the stage makes perfect sense. By dismantling archaic stereotypes, we can foster equality and prevent violence and coercion within relationships. Relationship and sexuality education, in school settings and outside, plays a key role in ensuring the safe emotional and physical development of young people.

SGBV toolkit
09 December 2021

Safe from Sexual and Gender-Based Violence - toolkit

This is the Safe from sexual and gender-based violence (SfSGBV) toolkit. Its main purpose is to guide the delivery of sexuality education sessions that support young people at risk of marginalization to recognize and protect themselves from SGBV. The toolkit is designed for the use of experienced sexuality education educators. Equally, it is a valuable resource for young people interested to learn more about prevention of sexual and gender-based violence.   You can learn from the toolkit either through our interactive website or by downloading the resource below.

16 days of activism
25 November 2021

Sex without consent is rape – so why are governments failing to act?

“Sex without consent is rape”. This statement sounds self-evident. And yet our laws and our lived experiences show that it is still far from being universally recognized and understood. On two recent occasions, watching fiction with friends - Game of Thrones and Basic Instinct - where scenes of rape were depicted, we found ourselves debating whether these were in fact rapes. To me, it was very clear that the female characters on screen did not consent to sex. But since in both scenes, they knew the men, and had previous relationships with them, others felt that this was somehow enough to downplay these situations and question whether they did constitute rape. This brought home for me, once again, how far we still have to go. If my friends, who are pretty committed to gender equality, cannot identify rape in fiction, then what about broader society, and most importantly what about real life? A societal problem   Polls reflect this alarming reality. More than a quarter of Europeans believe that sexual violence can be excused: 27% said that "sexual intercourse without consent can be justifiable" in certain situations, most such circumstances having to do with the behaviour of the victim. When surveys don’t use the word “rape” but factually describe situations that constitute rape, they expose how pervasive it is: a poll in France revealed that out of almost 100 000 female respondents, more than half (53.2%) reported having experienced non-consensual penetrative sex with one or more partners. On the other side of the same coin, recently 63 male students out of 554 surveyed in the UK admitted to having committed 251 sexual assaults, rapes, and other coercive and unwanted incidents. The study also showed that these perpetrators were significantly more likely to believe that women are to blame for being assaulted, and to hold hostile views about women. We are still collectively terrible at identifying, and condemning, sexual violence. It’s not a mystery why. We live in a society which blames victims/survivors, in order to let violent men off the hook: that is the primary function of rape culture. Laws are the result of the patriarchal culture we live in and reflect this toxic mindset. We need urgent and concrete actions to address sexual violence on both fronts: to change legislation, and to change mentalities. Reflected in legislation   In Europe, shockingly, most countries do not criminalise sex without consent. Their laws usually require the use of force or coercion as an additional factor in order for a non-consensual act to be considered as sexual violence. According to a review of the legislation of European countries done by Amnesty International in 2020, only 12 European countries out of 31 analysed had laws that define rape as sex without consent. This is despite the fact that most countries have ratified the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, the first legally binding comprehensive instrument to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. The Convention clearly states that engaging in non-consensual sexual activity constitutes sexual violence. It further says that “consent must be given voluntarily as the result of the person’s free will assessed in the context of the surrounding circumstances”. How is it possible that so many countries ratified this landmark treaty, yet have not changed their legislation to bring it in line with its binding requirements? Inadequate laws on sexual violence have a devastating impact on victims/survivors. They encourage victim blaming, excuse violence, and fail to prosecute rapists. Instead of looking for proof that the perpetrator used enough force or assessing whether the victim/survivor put up enough resistance, the legal system should focus on whether the victim/survivor explicitly consented to sex. And if not, that should be enough to constitute sexual violence. “Yes means Yes” laws represent a necessary change of paradigm to protect victims/survivors more effectively. The road ahead   In June 2021, in a most welcome development only made possible by intense mobilization by women’s rights NGOs, Slovenia changed its law on sexual violence to adopt a consent-based legislative proposal. Spain is also currently reviewing its legislation on sexual violence, to adopt a consent-based model. The “Only Yes Means Yes” bill follows the shocking ‘La Manada’ case, where a group of men were initially found guilty of the lesser offence of sexual abuse instead of rape, because the prosecution could not prove that they used force against the victim/survivor. Other countries must follow suit, urgently. All European countries must ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention, including by changing their legislation to comply with its legal definition of sexual violence. Changing laws and mentalities goes hand in hand: putting an end to rape culture will require not just a change of legislation, but profound societal transformation too. Education is key in that regard. Relationship sexuality education, which teaches children and young people about consent in intimate relationships, is essential. The European Commission is now working on a new legislative proposal to prevent and combat violence against women. This Directive should tackle the issue of sexual violence, and unequivocally adopt the definition of the Istanbul Convention, namely that sex without consent is rape. The Directive should also include comprehensive relationship and sex education as a key prevention measure, to improve young people’s understanding of consent, enable them to identify sexual violence, discourage them from perpetrating it, and empower them to report it.

EWAG in the EP 2019
10 November 2021

Girls Unite with Netflix to discuss harmful gender norms on and off screen

A society free from sexism and discrimination is only possible if we dismantle harmful gender norms and stereotypes. The idea that young men are often expected to suppress their emotions so that they can conform to damaging understandings of strength and masculinity is archaic. It leaves men ill-equipped to express or navigate through their emotions, which can later on cause issues for their mental health. Equally, young women are often expected to be polite and accommodating to others - even in situations where they are made to feel uncomfortable. Conforming to this expectation can make it more difficult for women to assert themselves and can lead to their enduring discrimination or abuse. By breaking down these archaic stereotypes, we can foster equality. In order to discuss these matters as well equal and empowering representation of girls and women on screen, we teamed up with Netflix within the European Week of Action for Girls and created a space for dialogue between policy makers and the young people looking to advocate for positive change. Our event brought together Věra Jourová, Vice-President of the European Commission, Busisiwe Ntintili, creator and showrunner of Netflix series JIVA! and Sunni Faba writer of How To Ruin Christmas: The Wedding and youth advocates Claudia (23) from Ghana as well as Maja (21) from Sweden. VP Jourová started by sharing about her past and being born in communist Czechoslovakia where she was told many times to “Speak only when they ask you to speak”.

vaska--smiling--with--bg.jpg
20 September 2021

My friends think I’m crazy, because I only have one child. But I know I can decide when to have another. Vaska's Story

“I got married quite early, when I was 17. A year and a half later I got pregnant and had a baby girl. Now she is 18 months old. My husband started a job in the city in a company which is popular among Roma people, and I stayed home to look after our child.  Last year I met Valya, the health mediator. She told me they organize meetings, and she invited me to take part in a women’s group. Initially I didn’t know what we would do, but it was interesting as there were other women like me. During these meetings we spoke very often about contraception in general, and especially about IUDs. The women shared what they had heard and what they knew about them. It was strange, but most of them said that IUDs harm women’s health. I also understood that the men are worried about their wives’ health and that that’s why they don’t approve of contraception. I heard women say other things as well, like you can still get pregnant with an IUD, that you may gain weight, that IUDs move in the body, and so on and so forth.  One day, during a meeting, we spoke again about contraception, and more precisely, what we thought was a good family size. People had different views. I personally think that it is not so much about the number of children as it is about being able to make sure you have everything you need - clothes, food, the possibility to educate them. Everyone should take these issues into consideration before having children.  I thought more often about myself and my family. We didn’t have high incomes and we could barely afford our bills. Our daughter was a baby and it was challenge to provide for her. My husband and I started to talk about it, and I started to think about getting an IUD. That’s why six months ago I decided to have one fitted, and I feel fine. It isn’t painful and I haven’t gained weight. My friends think I’m crazy, because I only have one child. But I know that I’ll be able to decide when to have another one.” When vulnerable communities, volunteers and professionals unite for reproductive freedom, they are a powerful force for change. Watch Vaska’s story and others in our short film about the amazing work our members in Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia are doing to support the lifelong reproductive health and safety of Roma girls, women and young people.

EWAG
05 October 2021

Girls unite to shape the EU-Africa partnership

The European Week of Action for Girls (EWAG), that is annually organised to mark International Day of the Girl (11th October), gathers young advocates to advance girls’ rights and gender equality in the EU space. This year, it is providing a platform for girls to speak out about how the AU-EU Partnership can reflect their aspirations and unlock their potential. It is crucial that the strategy enables dialogue between both regions, allowing for mutual learning and joint and coordinated actions, especially on issues that affect girls and young women both in the EU and the AU - such as sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), Education and Economic Empowerment and Political Participation. Over the summer of 2021 the EWAG young advocates connected on several occasions to define their recommendations to the EU in four key areas. Read more below and watch our video summarizing youth advocates' recommendations.

London_Brook_RSE_60998_IPPF_Laura Lewis_UK_IPPF_1.jpg
05 May 2022

Protecting EU values and rights

Gender inequality and harmful gender norms remain widespread in the EU. While sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are at the core of gender equality and women’s rights and empowerment, their attainment varies greatly across the EU: women and girls, particularly those marginalized by systemic oppression, face significant barriers to sexual and reproductive health care, information and education, which violates their human rights and hinders progress towards gender equality. At the same time, dramatic changes taking place in Europe, from the backlash orchestrated by anti-rights actors to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, threaten progress towards gender equality and many of the rights and values that the EU aims to protect.  In this context, IPPF EN, together with member associations and partners, is working to progress towards a more gender equal world where people in all their diversity are released from harmful gender norms and fully empowered to make decisions over their lives and bodies. To move toward this, we work to strengthen national support in the EU Institutions and Member States for gender equality and women’s rights by: ensuring that policy and decision makers at all levels (EU, National and Local) are creating progressive legislative and policy frameworks that protect and advance gender equality & women’s rights; educating and empowering young people, as a new generation of EU citizens, to become leaders and drivers of the long-term change process needed around societal norms and behaviours; increasing the capacity of civil society actors to act in a strategic and coordinated manner when promoting gender equality and women’s rights.   This work is funded by the European Union through the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values programme which aims to protect and promote Union rights and values as enshrined in the EU Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The programme will contribute to sustain and further develop open, rights-based, democratic, equal and inclusive societies based on the rule of law.

vaska--smiling--white--bg.jpg
08 April 2022

Working with the Roma community and local actors for reproductive freedom

In the Balkans, IPPF members are working hand-in-hand with diverse networks of actors from within and around Roma communities. This work was shaped as the My Body, My Rights project. Our common goal is to strengthen girls’ lifelong reproductive freedom and tackle some of the deep-rooted, systemic obstacles that prevent people - especially women and youth - from living safer and healthier lives. How? By increasing access to care, creating supporting contexts for choice and advocating for investment. Our work is community-driven and based on fostering local partnerships. At the heart of this collective action are Roma volunteers, girls and boys, health mediators and local NGOs, leading grassroots change and advocating for their own unique communities. Doctors, community nurses and teachers are working with them to help deliver lasting impact. And some decision-makers are stepping up and beginning to make much-needed investments in more equitable access to reproductive healthcare. We are proud to share highlights of our work, recommendations to decision-makers and resources for further reading. Explore our new microsite!   

Youth Voices, Youth Choices research report front cover
30 March 2022

Young people’s access to SRH information, education and care in the Western Balkans in Covid times

COVID-19 created the largest health and socio-economic crisis of our generation. Many health systems were pushed to the brink by restrictive measures rushed in to respond to the pandemic, resulting in the deprioritisation of some existing healthcare services. In almost all European countries, COVID-19 had a negative impact on the delivery of vital sexual and reproductive healthcare, including maternal health and family planning, for women and groups that face barriers to accessing care, including young people. The pandemic also uncovered weaknesses within our systems and exposed the fact that countries are not adequately prepared to deal with health emergencies. To help bring about positive change for young people, IPPF European Network is working to strengthen healthcare systems through the project Youth Voices, Youth Choices, and to remove all kinds of barriers preventing youth from accessing essential care in five Balkan countries: Albania; Bosnia & Herzegovina; Bulgaria, Kosovo and North Macedonia. We are focusing particularly on the needs of those living in remote areas, as well as those from communities that face challenging social conditions, such as the Roma. As a basis for this work, we conducted a study to provide us with a clearer picture of the impact of the pandemic on young people’s SRHR. This series of reports presents the findings of the study, carried out by and among youth in five Balkan countries. The reports, available for download below, document young people’s SRH needs and experiences and the perspectives of healthcare providers and other relevant stakeholders on these needs. They also capture the latter’s needs as they deliver services, information and education to young people, building on their experience of COVID-19. Young people are at the heart of this project: they were part of the research teams and as a next step, will join expert groups who will build on these reports to develop recommendations for policy change at national and regional level.

Still Stop Violence one character.PNG
25 November 2021

Sex without consent is rape – so why are governments failing to act?

“Sex without consent is rape”. This statement sounds self-evident. And yet our laws and our lived experiences show that it is still far from being universally recognized and understood. On two recent occasions, watching fiction with friends - Game of Thrones and Basic Instinct - where scenes of rape were depicted, we found ourselves debating whether these were in fact rapes. To me, it was very clear that the female characters on screen did not consent to sex. But since in both scenes, they knew the men, and had previous relationships with them, others felt that this was somehow enough to downplay these situations and question whether they did constitute rape. This brought home for me, once again, how far we still have to go. If my friends, who are pretty committed to gender equality, cannot identify rape in fiction, then what about broader society, and most importantly what about real life?   A societal problem Polls reflect this alarming reality. More than a quarter of Europeans believe that sexual violence can be excused: 27% said that "sexual intercourse without consent can be justifiable" in certain situations, most such circumstances having to do with the behaviour of the victim. When surveys don’t use the word “rape” but factually describe situations that constitute rape, they expose how pervasive it is: a poll in France revealed that out of almost 100 000 female respondents, more than half (53.2%) reported having experienced non-consensual penetrative sex with one or more partners. On the other side of the same coin, recently 63 male students out of 554 surveyed in the UK admitted to having committed 251 sexual assaults, rapes, and other coercive and unwanted incidents. The study also showed that these perpetrators were significantly more likely to believe that women are to blame for being assaulted, and to hold hostile views about women. We are still collectively terrible at identifying, and condemning, sexual violence. It’s not a mystery why. We live in a society which blames victims/survivors, in order to let violent men off the hook: that is the primary function of rape culture. Laws are the result of the patriarchal culture we live in and reflect this toxic mindset. We need urgent and concrete actions to address sexual violence on both fronts: to change legislation, and to change mentalities.   Reflected in legislation In Europe, shockingly, most countries do not criminalise sex without consent. Their laws usually require the use of force or coercion as an additional factor in order for a non-consensual act to be considered as sexual violence. According to a review of the legislation of European countries done by Amnesty International in 2020, only 12 European countries out of 31 analysed had laws that define rape as sex without consent. This is despite the fact that most countries have ratified the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, the first legally binding comprehensive instrument to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. The Convention clearly states that engaging in non-consensual sexual activity constitutes sexual violence. It further says that “consent must be given voluntarily as the result of the person’s free will assessed in the context of the surrounding circumstances”. How is it possible that so many countries ratified this landmark treaty, yet have not changed their legislation to bring it in line with its binding requirements? Inadequate laws on sexual violence have a devastating impact on victims/survivors. They encourage victim blaming, excuse violence, and fail to prosecute rapists. Instead of looking for proof that the perpetrator used enough force or assessing whether the victim/survivor put up enough resistance, the legal system should focus on whether the victim/survivor explicitly consented to sex. And if not, that should be enough to constitute sexual violence. “Yes means Yes” laws represent a necessary change of paradigm to protect victims/survivors more effectively.   The road ahead In June 2021, in a most welcome development only made possible by intense mobilization by women’s rights NGOs, Slovenia changed its law on sexual violence to adopt a consent-based legislative proposal. Spain is also currently reviewing its legislation on sexual violence, to adopt a consent-based model. The “Only Yes Means Yes” bill follows the shocking ‘La Manada’ case, where a group of men were initially found guilty of the lesser offence of sexual abuse instead of rape, because the prosecution could not prove that they used force against the victim/survivor. Other countries must follow suit, urgently. All European countries must ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention, including by changing their legislation to comply with its legal definition of sexual violence. Changing laws and mentalities goes hand in hand: putting an end to rape culture will require not just a change of legislation, but profound societal transformation too. Education is key in that regard. Relationship sexuality education, which teaches children and young people about consent in intimate relationships, is essential [1]. The European Commission is now working on a new legislative proposal to prevent and combat violence against women. This Directive should tackle the issue of sexual violence, and unequivocally adopt the definition of the Istanbul Convention, namely that sex without consent is rape. The Directive should also include comprehensive relationship and sex education as a key prevention measure, to improve young people’s understanding of consent, enable them to identify sexual violence, discourage them from perpetrating it, and empower them to report it.   By Camille Butin, Advocacy Adviser IPPF EN   [1] Facing the facts: the case for comprehensive sexuality education Can education stop abuse? Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Advancing Human Rights, Gender Equality and Improved Sexual and Reproductive Health Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Among Young People—a Qualitative Study Examining the Role of Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Youthspect photo video_0.png
17 February 2022

Young people breaking gender stereotypes

The Youth SpectActors project, implemented in Serbia, Romania, Latvia and Estonia, addresses the root causes of gender-based violence (GBV), namely traditional patriarchal systems based on harmful and rigid gender norms around masculinity and femininity, gender-based discrimination and unequal power relations. Young people are at the centre of our intervention, because of the far-reaching impact of GBV in their lives – as survivors, perpetrators, or bystanders. We believe that young people have a key role they play as change agents. To this end we run theatre-based workshops where boys and girls who participate literally walk in one another's shoes to help challenge and dismantle 'gender roles'. Gender roles are merely roles that we are playing all our lives, and this is why playing them on the stage makes perfect sense. By dismantling archaic stereotypes, we can foster equality and prevent violence and coercion within relationships. Relationship and sexuality education, in school settings and outside, plays a key role in ensuring the safe emotional and physical development of young people.

SGBV toolkit
09 December 2021

Safe from Sexual and Gender-Based Violence - toolkit

This is the Safe from sexual and gender-based violence (SfSGBV) toolkit. Its main purpose is to guide the delivery of sexuality education sessions that support young people at risk of marginalization to recognize and protect themselves from SGBV. The toolkit is designed for the use of experienced sexuality education educators. Equally, it is a valuable resource for young people interested to learn more about prevention of sexual and gender-based violence.   You can learn from the toolkit either through our interactive website or by downloading the resource below.

16 days of activism
25 November 2021

Sex without consent is rape – so why are governments failing to act?

“Sex without consent is rape”. This statement sounds self-evident. And yet our laws and our lived experiences show that it is still far from being universally recognized and understood. On two recent occasions, watching fiction with friends - Game of Thrones and Basic Instinct - where scenes of rape were depicted, we found ourselves debating whether these were in fact rapes. To me, it was very clear that the female characters on screen did not consent to sex. But since in both scenes, they knew the men, and had previous relationships with them, others felt that this was somehow enough to downplay these situations and question whether they did constitute rape. This brought home for me, once again, how far we still have to go. If my friends, who are pretty committed to gender equality, cannot identify rape in fiction, then what about broader society, and most importantly what about real life? A societal problem   Polls reflect this alarming reality. More than a quarter of Europeans believe that sexual violence can be excused: 27% said that "sexual intercourse without consent can be justifiable" in certain situations, most such circumstances having to do with the behaviour of the victim. When surveys don’t use the word “rape” but factually describe situations that constitute rape, they expose how pervasive it is: a poll in France revealed that out of almost 100 000 female respondents, more than half (53.2%) reported having experienced non-consensual penetrative sex with one or more partners. On the other side of the same coin, recently 63 male students out of 554 surveyed in the UK admitted to having committed 251 sexual assaults, rapes, and other coercive and unwanted incidents. The study also showed that these perpetrators were significantly more likely to believe that women are to blame for being assaulted, and to hold hostile views about women. We are still collectively terrible at identifying, and condemning, sexual violence. It’s not a mystery why. We live in a society which blames victims/survivors, in order to let violent men off the hook: that is the primary function of rape culture. Laws are the result of the patriarchal culture we live in and reflect this toxic mindset. We need urgent and concrete actions to address sexual violence on both fronts: to change legislation, and to change mentalities. Reflected in legislation   In Europe, shockingly, most countries do not criminalise sex without consent. Their laws usually require the use of force or coercion as an additional factor in order for a non-consensual act to be considered as sexual violence. According to a review of the legislation of European countries done by Amnesty International in 2020, only 12 European countries out of 31 analysed had laws that define rape as sex without consent. This is despite the fact that most countries have ratified the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, the first legally binding comprehensive instrument to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. The Convention clearly states that engaging in non-consensual sexual activity constitutes sexual violence. It further says that “consent must be given voluntarily as the result of the person’s free will assessed in the context of the surrounding circumstances”. How is it possible that so many countries ratified this landmark treaty, yet have not changed their legislation to bring it in line with its binding requirements? Inadequate laws on sexual violence have a devastating impact on victims/survivors. They encourage victim blaming, excuse violence, and fail to prosecute rapists. Instead of looking for proof that the perpetrator used enough force or assessing whether the victim/survivor put up enough resistance, the legal system should focus on whether the victim/survivor explicitly consented to sex. And if not, that should be enough to constitute sexual violence. “Yes means Yes” laws represent a necessary change of paradigm to protect victims/survivors more effectively. The road ahead   In June 2021, in a most welcome development only made possible by intense mobilization by women’s rights NGOs, Slovenia changed its law on sexual violence to adopt a consent-based legislative proposal. Spain is also currently reviewing its legislation on sexual violence, to adopt a consent-based model. The “Only Yes Means Yes” bill follows the shocking ‘La Manada’ case, where a group of men were initially found guilty of the lesser offence of sexual abuse instead of rape, because the prosecution could not prove that they used force against the victim/survivor. Other countries must follow suit, urgently. All European countries must ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention, including by changing their legislation to comply with its legal definition of sexual violence. Changing laws and mentalities goes hand in hand: putting an end to rape culture will require not just a change of legislation, but profound societal transformation too. Education is key in that regard. Relationship sexuality education, which teaches children and young people about consent in intimate relationships, is essential. The European Commission is now working on a new legislative proposal to prevent and combat violence against women. This Directive should tackle the issue of sexual violence, and unequivocally adopt the definition of the Istanbul Convention, namely that sex without consent is rape. The Directive should also include comprehensive relationship and sex education as a key prevention measure, to improve young people’s understanding of consent, enable them to identify sexual violence, discourage them from perpetrating it, and empower them to report it.

EWAG in the EP 2019
10 November 2021

Girls Unite with Netflix to discuss harmful gender norms on and off screen

A society free from sexism and discrimination is only possible if we dismantle harmful gender norms and stereotypes. The idea that young men are often expected to suppress their emotions so that they can conform to damaging understandings of strength and masculinity is archaic. It leaves men ill-equipped to express or navigate through their emotions, which can later on cause issues for their mental health. Equally, young women are often expected to be polite and accommodating to others - even in situations where they are made to feel uncomfortable. Conforming to this expectation can make it more difficult for women to assert themselves and can lead to their enduring discrimination or abuse. By breaking down these archaic stereotypes, we can foster equality. In order to discuss these matters as well equal and empowering representation of girls and women on screen, we teamed up with Netflix within the European Week of Action for Girls and created a space for dialogue between policy makers and the young people looking to advocate for positive change. Our event brought together Věra Jourová, Vice-President of the European Commission, Busisiwe Ntintili, creator and showrunner of Netflix series JIVA! and Sunni Faba writer of How To Ruin Christmas: The Wedding and youth advocates Claudia (23) from Ghana as well as Maja (21) from Sweden. VP Jourová started by sharing about her past and being born in communist Czechoslovakia where she was told many times to “Speak only when they ask you to speak”.

vaska--smiling--with--bg.jpg
20 September 2021

My friends think I’m crazy, because I only have one child. But I know I can decide when to have another. Vaska's Story

“I got married quite early, when I was 17. A year and a half later I got pregnant and had a baby girl. Now she is 18 months old. My husband started a job in the city in a company which is popular among Roma people, and I stayed home to look after our child.  Last year I met Valya, the health mediator. She told me they organize meetings, and she invited me to take part in a women’s group. Initially I didn’t know what we would do, but it was interesting as there were other women like me. During these meetings we spoke very often about contraception in general, and especially about IUDs. The women shared what they had heard and what they knew about them. It was strange, but most of them said that IUDs harm women’s health. I also understood that the men are worried about their wives’ health and that that’s why they don’t approve of contraception. I heard women say other things as well, like you can still get pregnant with an IUD, that you may gain weight, that IUDs move in the body, and so on and so forth.  One day, during a meeting, we spoke again about contraception, and more precisely, what we thought was a good family size. People had different views. I personally think that it is not so much about the number of children as it is about being able to make sure you have everything you need - clothes, food, the possibility to educate them. Everyone should take these issues into consideration before having children.  I thought more often about myself and my family. We didn’t have high incomes and we could barely afford our bills. Our daughter was a baby and it was challenge to provide for her. My husband and I started to talk about it, and I started to think about getting an IUD. That’s why six months ago I decided to have one fitted, and I feel fine. It isn’t painful and I haven’t gained weight. My friends think I’m crazy, because I only have one child. But I know that I’ll be able to decide when to have another one.” When vulnerable communities, volunteers and professionals unite for reproductive freedom, they are a powerful force for change. Watch Vaska’s story and others in our short film about the amazing work our members in Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia are doing to support the lifelong reproductive health and safety of Roma girls, women and young people.

EWAG
05 October 2021

Girls unite to shape the EU-Africa partnership

The European Week of Action for Girls (EWAG), that is annually organised to mark International Day of the Girl (11th October), gathers young advocates to advance girls’ rights and gender equality in the EU space. This year, it is providing a platform for girls to speak out about how the AU-EU Partnership can reflect their aspirations and unlock their potential. It is crucial that the strategy enables dialogue between both regions, allowing for mutual learning and joint and coordinated actions, especially on issues that affect girls and young women both in the EU and the AU - such as sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), Education and Economic Empowerment and Political Participation. Over the summer of 2021 the EWAG young advocates connected on several occasions to define their recommendations to the EU in four key areas. Read more below and watch our video summarizing youth advocates' recommendations.