Disagreement Over Gender identity and ‘Sexuality Education’ Impedes Resolution on Violence Against Children
US delegate Colin Mclff urged bold action.

The World Health Assembly (WHA) passed a resolution on preventing violence against women and girls at Monday’s plenary – but only after heated discussion on Saturday resulted in a watered-down version with no reference to “sexuality education”. 

However, during the plenary session after the resolution had been adopted, Argentina’s representative, María Jimena Schiaffino, expressed disappointment on behalf of over 30 countries at the compromise that had been adopted “in order to not break consensus on voting on technical issues”.

“We have remained disappointed that similarly the long-standing practice of this association was not employed by objecting member states,” added Schiaffino. 

Comprehensive Sexuality Education ‘Agreed On’ in UN

“We want to take this opportunity today to again reiterate our support for comprehensive sexuality education for children to realise their health, well-being and to learn how to build relationships. For real communication, self-protection and risk-reduction skills are a fundamental part of efforts to prevent, recognise or respond to violence against children,” she said.

She added that “the term comprehensive sexuality education is based on already agreed consensus language use in other UN fora” and that the WHA  needs discussions to evolve its language to support “this evidence-based standard for the benefit of all children everywhere”.

The resolution is aimed at strengthening the health sector’s capacity to prevent and respond to violence against children. Every year around a billion children are affected by physical, sexual or emotional violence. 

During Saturday’s committee meeting on the draft resolution, US delegate Colin Mclff called for member states to “be bold” in order to “move forward with our shared goal of ending violence against children”, emphasizing that “sexuality education” would allow for a pathway to tolerance leading to “acceptance, inclusivity and empowerment”.

Countries like New Zealand also drew attention to the intersectionality of violence against children with their race, gender and other identities. 

Heated discussion over language

However, a number of countries including Kenya, Syria, Egypt, Bahrain and Iran disagreed with the language of the draft resolution, particularly with the inclusion of the term “sexuality education” over “sex education” for children. 

The push for bold language that would recognise multiple gender identities came from co-sponsor countries including the United States, Canada, the European Union, Oman and Paraguay, among others.  

Eventually, in an effort to pass the resolution with consensus, Monaco, Australia and Japan suggested a compromise that would drop the contentious paragraph:

“To provide accessible gender-sensitive, free from gender stereotypes, evidence-based and appropriate to age and evolving capacities sexuality education to children, and with appropriate direction and guidance from parents and legal guardians, with the best interests of the child as their basic concern to empower and enable them to realize their health well-being and dignity, build communication, self-protection and risk reduction skills, as a fundamental part of the efforts to prevent, recognize and respond to violence against children”

While countries agreed to the compromise, F Mamdouhi of Iran said his country disassociates itself from the parts of the resolution “that may imply in any manner whatsoever, recognition, protection, or promotion of those behaviours that are unethical under its legal system, or socio-cultural norms or which may contradict its world, and religious values accordingly.”

There were also discussions on protecting children from the growing challenge of online bullying.

Resolution on violence against women

The resolution also included suggestions to take a multi-sectoral approach to interpersonal violence as well as that in particular against women and children. While both boys and girls are at equal risk of physical and emotional abuse and neglect, girls are at a greater risk of sexual abuse

There was consensus on considering violence against women an issue of public health concern. 

The WHO will support their member states to train their frontline healthcare workers to respond better to violence against women and girls. Around 60 countries have already adopted or used WHO guidelines to inform their national protocols. 

While there was consensus on the need to prevent violence against women, Zimbabwe reminded the Assembly that violence against boys and men must not be ignored. 

“It is important to take particular attention not to sideline the boy child who also suffers from sexual violence in all forms of violence, including physical, inside of the ruling,” said J Chimedza of Zimbabwe. 

Image Credits: WHO.

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