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