I believe that young people’s awareness about their sexual and reproductive health and rights allows safe and healthy lives. Giving a voice to young people helps to create active and conscious citizens capable of standing up for their beliefs.
Comprehensive sexuality education is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. It aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to realize their health, well-being and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others; and understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.
Too many young people receive confusing and conflicting information about relationships and sex, as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood. This has led to an increasing demand from young people for reliable information, which prepares them for a safe, productive and fulfilling life. When delivered well, CSE responds to this demand, empowering young people to make informed decisions about relationships and sexuality and navigate a world where gender-based violence, gender inequality, early and unintended pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) still pose serious risks to their health and well-being. Equally, a lack of high-quality, age- and developmentally-appropriate sexuality and relationship education may leave children and young people vulnerable to harmful sexual behaviors and sexual exploitation.
CSE plays a crucial role in addressing the health and well-being of children and young people. Applying a learner-centered approach, CSE not only provides children and young people with age-appropriate and phased education on human rights, gender equality, relationships, reproduction, sexual behaviors risks and prevention of ill health, but also provides an opportunity to present sexuality with a positive approach, emphasizing values such as respect, inclusion, non-discrimination, equality, empathy, responsibility and reciprocity.
The Aulona center staff together with the volunteers organized a three-day summer school in May 2019 with the theme “Comprehensive Sex Education for a Promising Life!” at the Diamond Hill Hotel in Vlora. Twenty young people including youth from vulnerable groups received education on how to avoid risky behaviors, how to build healthy social and intimate relationships; how to think critically, how to take care of themselves; and where to get youth-friendly services for better health and a happier life.
During the practice sessions the participants developed some plans for their lives. These plans included school enrollment; avoidance of early marriage; protection against unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and HIV / AIDS; use of contraception, avoidance of drug or alcohol use, etc.
High-school teacher Nevjana Muça of Tirana says it is getting easier to discuss sexuality education in schools. “In the past, I have asked students to discuss certain topics, and have had them reply that their fathers don’t allow them to talk about that. I don’t encounter those kinds of difficulties so much now, though taboos unfortunately still persist,” says Muça. “We emphasize to all parents, teachers and students that the more informed young people are when they start sexual relationships, the better and healthier these relationships will be, and the more responsible, mature and prepared these young people will be in life.”
Oriana Osmani, a mother from Tirana, says she wanted her now 18-year-old daughter “to know as much as possible about sexuality education.” Even though it was awkward when her daughter was younger, she chose not to turn off the TV when a sexual scene came on in a movie, and instead tried to talk openly about what was being shown on screen. “I didn’t have any experience like that with my own mother, so it was difficult for me,” Osmani says. “I believe it will be easier for my daughter to talk to her children about sex when she becomes a parent.”
The sexual and reproductive health lessons introduced at Marjo Rabiaj’s school in Ballsh inspired him to get trained as a peer educator himself. He volunteers for a youth organization that promotes youth issues, including healthy lifestyles, sexuality education and youth participation. “I love spreading the word among my peers that every young person has the right to live a healthy life and build a safe future, and that sexuality education helps us do that,” Rabiaj says.
The frank discussions in school also helped Rabiaj and his girlfriend talk more openly about sex and their relationship, he says. “We had so many questions, which were now being answered,” he says. “We feel more at ease now, we talk openly, and I think we have a healthy sexual life now and are protecting each other and helping each other stay healthy.”
BALLSH, Albania – It’s not always easy talking to young people about sexual and reproductive health in the classroom.
“Whenever a question about our bodies was raised in biology class, there was laughter and whispering; some students turned red and others giggled,” says Marjo Rabiaj, 17, of Ballsh, a small town in southern Albania. “So sometimes the lesson was not taught at all, because the teacher said we were too immature to discuss such topics. I was so curious and eager to learn but since these subjects were called ‘shameful,’ I couldn’t discuss them with anybody.”
When Rabiaj and his girlfriend first had sexual intercourse, they did not use any method of contraception and they found themselves troubled by the experience.
“We had lots of fear, doubt and uncertainty about whether it was right or wrong, what could we expect afterwards, what others would think if they found out,” he says. “We decided to keep it a secret and didn’t talk about it anymore. I never even asked her how she felt about having sex.”
But one day, a teacher announced that Rabiaj’s school would be participating in a pilot programme to introduce comprehensive sexuality education in schools in Albania. The teacher had received special training on the subject, and had brought in two young people, trained peer educators from Tirana, to help. There was some laughing and blushing at first, Rabiaj recalls, “but soon we started to have several classes on topics that we never spoke about before. And all of our classmates started to feel more relaxed.”
The teacher and the peer educators who came to Rabiaj’s school are among hundreds who have been trained as part of a partnership between UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and the Albanian Ministry of Education and Sports. UNFPA has been working with the ministry and other partners in Albania for nearly a decade to institutionalize age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education as part of the curriculum for 10- to 18-year-olds in Albanian schools. A thorough curriculum reform, including a monitoring system to ensure the quality of teaching and materials, is underway with a target date of 2020 for full implementation.
“Sexuality education is a very important part of the health and life-skills education of young people,” says Zamira Gjini, director of the Pre-university Education Department at the Ministry of Education and Sports. “It is the duty of the school to ensure this education, and to raise awareness among parents, social-services agencies and local government about this and related topics, including keeping girls in school and avoiding child marriage.”
“Every young person has the right to live a healthy life and build a safe future, and sexuality education helps us do that.” –Marjo Rabiaj, 17, a peer educator in Ballsh, Albania
Albania has made remarkable progress in developing and implementing comprehensive sexuality education at pre-university level. A ‘Positioning Paper on Comprehensive Sexuality Education for Young People in Albania’ is approved in 2012 and from 2015 Comprehensive Sexuality Education started to be implemented in schools. However, the SE program has not been developed to reach out to the children/young people from key populations in informal settings. Many young key populations are not in school and are not reached by school-based programs.
There is widespread opposition to school SE in the country. Parents, caregivers, community members and teachers as well see SE as a factor leading to “early” sex. They argue that it runs against the Albanian culture, that schools should promote moral values instead of implementing SE. They feel that SE might be okay for young people but not for children and young people at young ages
Training of health-care providers should include a human rights based approach to addressing the needs of young persons from key populations. For example, one of the objectives of the MISP is reducing HIV transmission, and planning for comprehensive SRH care (integrated into primary health care where possible). Trainers can include information on young key populations into this topic in order to increase providers’ capacity to offer stigma-free, respectful services and make them aware of the issues facing young sex workers, young MSM, young people who inject drugs, etc
In June 2017, UNFPA Albania launched the establishment of the “Media Platform on Sexual and Reproductive Health”. This initiative is creating a network of journalists that collaborate on issues pertaining to SRH, including gender-based violence/harmful practices and healthy lifestyles, with a special focus on young people and to support one another to report on SRHR topics that receive less coverage, or are reported on in ways that reinforce stereotypes and discrimination. Through this SRH media platform, journalists will find support and opportunities to share ideas, news, stories, data and open debates in the media about comprehensive SE, family planning and use of modern contraceptives, STIs and HIV, unintended pregnancies, early/child marriages and harmful practices, teenage pregnancies and abortions and influence on education and well-being of young people, youth empowerment and youth participation in decision-making affecting their lives, fight against violence and gender inequalities and much more.
Always, within the time frame of 23 years something ordinary fills my day with the idea that Im not alone. Many people around the owrld, somebody’s gone and somebody trying to normalize the day expressly have one thing in common. All unfortunate, perhaps from the first day of their lives and others along the way have been presented with a result where being positive makes you negative for society in some way. I am positive from the first day of my life, full of 23 years spent with something new and old. Every day that passes is like the first day of the story. Every smile, every encounter, every hug, every moment, every season, everything passively realizes that it was not born with you, except something that is nothing new and nothing old. Love and illness have exactly something in common to me. I was born out of the love of two parents who were affected by HIV / AIDS, and I was the only one providing security in an unknown world in which we all lived together for a while. And like anything where love and illness come together in a story, one has to be sacrificed for the sake of love from illness. But the painful thing is that even in sacrifice there is still nothing new and nothing old. Still there lay the pain of my father’s escape from life from a disease that is a fading of love and will be there even after his death. By this time around the 9years old, apart from the fact that I learned naively that I was a member of the unknown HIV-AIDS world in that time, I challenged myself that in a family with many “positives” inside, we cannot push each other up till the end to the next sacrifice but we can challenge that we have the opposite of how we experience a day or a history of being HIV positive. Of my entire family that consists of my father’s life today, only two divine and earthly creatures are uninfected and unidentified within our unknown world. One of them is my sister who was born when my parents were not infected yet (a difficult story to get started) and the other creature is my dog Ringo with whom I spent and still do 9 wonderful years (I believe it is understood which creature is divine). Remaining on my journey through many struggles are my mum – a divine human being, and my two little brothers who are twins with each other – two creatures who, due to the mythicism that the concept of twins holds, may be divine for many cultures. I’m nothing new and nothing old, nothing more than a teenager studying Philosophy and living in Tirana, Albania, engaged with the Albanian Association of People Living with HIV / AIDS, and the Albanian Center for Population and Development / Center PO, making my continued contribution. Representing one of the most vulnerable groups in Albania, young people living with HIV, I have seen my participation as a contribution to reducing and removing stigma, discrimination and social conformity for vulnerable and marginalized groups, especially like me. Every voice and contribution from young people has a major impact on the protection and promotion of sexual and reproductive health. Of great importance has been my contribution to the design of a Key Population Tool, proposed by the Albanian Center for Population and Development / Center PO within the framework of Youth Sexual Awareness for Europe (YSAFE). In my point of view, the tools for People with Disabilities (PLWD) and Vulnerable Populations are very important instruments and should prevent discrimination and enjoy the rights to health, treatment and care. I have never felt bad about being sick even though I never feel like it. I owe nothing to my father or my mother that I was born with a positivism rooted within me without their desire and knowledge. I have a story where the outside world has collided with the ignorance surrounding this disease and nothing else. The world owes itself to understanding that where there is a disease there should be no compassion but love. In dozens of intimate and social relationships with people I have realized that it is not enough just to know about this disease and just that. You have to learn to love life because this disease is nothing new and nothing old nowadays than a routine procedure for the degree of danger or difficulty that the patient or individual faces. Stigma interacts more with the virus than with other components of life. My story and I believe every story on this topic is addressed to the uninfected world with people who may know someone, relative or not who is infected with HIV / AIDS. Unconsciously the first moment a person is informed has a tendency to move toward opening up to the world as sick this time. He does not think about dealing with himself and the disease at all but only about other people’s approach to a generally prejudiced illness. As a child, prone to the fact that I had seen him die from HIV-AIDS, I thought I was going to die when I found out that I was sick. I put my hand on my heart as I was crying and at a childish agreement I realized that while still beating, I was out of danger to life. Today, as a 23-year-old, I just try to protect all the people around me from any minimal risk my modest illness can carry. I do not claim to be a success story, as long as I have simply done the duty of love for life, music, books, cinematography, sports, and a myriad of other things that I am still exploring. I lived, nothing more. In every country of the world there are people who have died from this disease and still live, just like in Albania. We fight to keep the number of casualties from rising and love to spread in simple human stories. For those of you reading this story is nothing new since it was part of it now, and to me it is always old as every day is a more reason to live and to give love and laughter. My name is Klevis Hoxhaj and I have been HIV positive since the first day of my life. Nothing new, nothing old.
Do you know how much can you benefit from being a volunteer at Albanian Center for Population and Development (ACPD) ?
When I came back from my European Voluntary Service in Poland, in 2017, a friend of mine recommended me to participate in a training course about advocacy on SRH, hosted by ACPD. Sincerely, the working area of ACPD made me hesitant, if I should join the organization or not. I am a Muslim practitioner, even though I am not practicing the Muslim dress code. I was thinking the organization values are against the Islam values that I go for. However, I decided to take this as an opportunity, recognizing the high profile of ACPD in country, and the recommendation given by my friend. That time I never thought this would be the greatest opportunity in my life for building my knowledge on reproductive care, women’s and men’s rights for reproductive freedom, an opportunity which positively would influence my development and my future career.
After this training I participated in the YSAFE Annual Meeting in 2018. Afterwards, I continued to be part of ACPD programs on CSE, reframing, advocacy and service provision. It was very impressive to attend the first training on reframing. My mind was enlightened by new frames on abortion, comprehensive sexuality education and contraception. I have to confess that Islam is my inspiration and one of my colons of my life. Though after these events, I started to connect the moral values of family and health care ACPD stands for, with those of Islam and internalizing all of these values inside me. I started to believe that women are entitled to be free from reproductive coercion and every form of authority that tries to stop this is a form of coercion and violation; children need literacy for healthy intimate bonding relationships; family needs reproductive care for a healthy and dignified life.
A couple of months later I was nominated by my MA as Youth Representative in the Regional Executive Committee of IPPF-EN and elected as a winner. This position makes me proud of myself, simultaneously gives me much more responsibilities to represent my MA and other youths in this important governing body of IPPF.
In May, I was invited to talk about family planning in a morning program at a national TV channel, Ora News. I used the frame women’s right to be free from reproductive coercion and the video had a great reach on FB page of ACPD. My first public appearance on media was very exciting, so I intend to repeat it. Next time I will take with me other ACPD activists to give echo to the amazing work being done on literacy for SE, contraception care and reproductive freedom.
Now I am engaged as a leading youth activist of advocacy initiatives for CSE and abortion. Simultaneously I am very keen on enhancing the base of ACPD supporters, including young people from the Muslim community. Already 4 of my friends have started to come over and visit the ACPD center. We, activists of ACPD are totally committed to put forward the achievements with regards to reframing.
M. L. is a 16 years old girl pregnant in her sixth month which she discovered when she was in the fourth month. For a few months she was in a relationship with a boy aged 24 and everything worked normally until she told her partner about the pregnancy. He not only didn’t accpted the fact that M.L. continues her pregnancy but also he dissapeared without leaving any contact.
Afraid of the situation, she was desperately searching online for various contacts where she could rely on her problem. After many researches M.L. called in the offices of the “House for the Protection of Children’s Rights” who after listening to the case referred her to center “PO” for more professional psycho-social counseling and to give the girl a solution. At the meeting with Center PO counseller, M. L. recounted her entire story as it had happened. I was in a relationship with a guy I thought he loved me the way I did. When I found out of the pregnancy I was about four months and some days. I had small signs like vomiting sensation and a bit of penchant, but the periods came regularly every month. One day I took a pregnancy test and when I tried it resulted positive. Një ditë bleva një test shtatzënie dhe pasi e provova rezultoi pozitiv. E gjithë bota mu shemb mbi kokë. I ran to meet up with my boyfriend and tell him everything but he not only refused my pregnancy but even disappeared without leaving any contact. Then I decided to tall to my mother as I consider her the only reliable friend. Vendosa ti thoja mamit pasi e mendoja si të vetmen shoqe timë të besueshme. After hearing me, she tearfully told me “I support you and I can not say anything about this situation but I cant do nothing … you kno your father, if he finds out, he kills us both …” I stoped going at school with the justification that I had a lot of workload and could not afford it because now my belly has grown and I did not want my friends to see me. In the counseling offered at the Center PO I received to much information that in all the years of my school I had never had the opportunity to hear about that. Since my case was sensitive because I had overpassed the months in which I can stop the pregancny, the counselor told me about the potential dangers if I decided to undergo to surgery for a premature birth, so I decided to keep my baby. But if my father will find out that I will have a baby and that the baby’s father is unknown he will definitely kill me. So I thought that after giving birth I will leave the baby in the orphanage “Baby House”and as soon as the situation calms down I will get back to pick up my baby.
Now I feel better that I had the good opportunity to consult with the professionals such as the staff of center PO who stayed very close to me, talking with me, providing me with information and education materials and introduced me with their profiles in social media which are very rich with informations that are missing in our school lessons and in those few cases our teachers overlook by calling it irrelevant to us. “If I had all this information earlier I would probably not be in this situation. But I’m sure for one thing, that all this information I will share with my friends that they do not have my destiny … “
Awareness Campaign “Communicating our Values under the New Language Frame on Reproductive Health and Rights”
On May 3rd, an awareness raising campaign on the value of communication under the new Language Frame on Reproductive Health and Rights was held in Elbasan City, with participation of students On May 3rd, an awareness raising campaign on the value of communication under the new Language Frame on Reproductive Health and Rights was held in Elbasan City, with participation of students of the Faculty of Nursing, representatives from local organizations, representatives from the Regional Health Directorate, representatives from Health Centers, participation of 60-70 community members and most important to mention 15 members from the Roma and Egyptian community and 15 members from rural areas. The aim was to strengthen the knowledge for effective communication and to influence the values and work ethic associated with Reproductive Health focusing on Sexual Education, Abortion and Contraception.
Some of the messages used were:
• Women free from reproductive coercion (Equal access to safe abortion methods)
• Protecting the right to a life free of coercion, intimidation, exploitation and sexual violence
• Without contraceptive care no one is free to live a healthy and free reproductive life
• Strengthen communities through knowledge of a free and secure sexual and emotional life and their protection from emotional sexual compulsion.
These messages were expected very well and positively by the participants. Men and women said that these messages are meaningful and affect the main aspect of reproductive health and rights. Also these messages were shared with passers-by and asked about they thoughts. The youngest girls and women welcomed and supported the messages and the campaign. The new language used to share messages and to make the community aware was very effective and was welcomed by all as participants and passers-by.