Review of Overcoming a Taboo: Normalizing Sexuality Education in Kazakhstan

Recent reports show the rates of child abandonment as a consequence of unwanted teenage pregnancies are alarmingly high in Kazakhstan. This problem along with other sexual health problems could be the result of a number of factors, including the lack of effective sexuality education programs in the school curriculum that would shape young people’s sexual behaviour and attitudes towards sexuality. The current review paper aims to analyse an article “Overcoming a Taboo: Normalizing Sexuality Education in Kazakhstan” presented as part of the Central Asia Program in January 2018. 

The article is written in an accessible and comprehensive language showing the author’s knowledge of subject matter, however, there is no logical and coherent structure throughout the article. The sections such as the literature review, methodology, aims, results, discussions, conclusions and recommendations are not presented explicitly and not shown in a chronological order. Whilst the methods and reported results are comprehensive and clearly showcase the insufficient sexuality education problem facing teenagers, there was no mention of the interviews with the authors as another method used in the article, as well as the aims and limitations of the research were not clearly stated. The author compares Kazakhstan with other developing countries where the reproductive health situation is no better without mentioning in the Introduction section why these particular countries were selected for comparison. This undermines the value of the study, therefore, it would have been useful to select countries with the better reproductive health situation and draw on their experiences.

The entire article focuses on the factors explaining the acute sexual health issues affecting young people. However, there is a range of other factors that could result in the early sexual activity, such as the influence of environment, peers, exposure to sexually explicit materials in the mass media, yet were not addressed by the author (Nikken & Graaf 2013). The article well-describes the apparent neglect of the issue by the policy-makers as a result of adopting weak policies or implementing ineffective programs. It highlights the role of the local government in increasing public awareness of the issue, through either pilot sexuality projects, targeting primarily women, or lectures, and poor results that it delivered. The article identifies the underlying causes for these failures as stereotypes, stigma or shame attached to an earlier sexual activity. Such stigma prevents parents from openly talking about sexuality with their children and makes the policy-makers move away from an issue. 

Children in traditional costume at the interior courtyard of the Ulugh Beg Madrasa. – by Dan Lundberg from flickr

The author suggests the sexuality education as an alternative that is yet to be put to practice, and identifies the lack of information about sexual health in Kazakh language for the residents of certain regions as well as low-quality or inaccessible sexual health services and centres as other contributing factors influencing the sexual well-being and health of teenagers. Interview answers of various specialists and survey findings have been provided to support this information as well as the arguments made throughout the article. The author also suggested that a range of policy changes such as abortion legalization for 16-year-olds, public awareness campaigns, increasing the quality of sexual health services, making birth control means more accessible, etc. would reduce the problem. However, this set of measures in itself would not solve the problem completely, for example, legalisation of teen abortions is likely to have serious health consequences, such as morbidity and mortality (Gerdts et al. 2016). 

Therefore, solutions should be properly developed with all the root causes of the problem in mind. As a way forward, sexuality education should not be perceived as something that encourages early sexual relationships, it should rather be regarded as a tool to increase the public’s knowledge of sexual health (Wight 2005). International community, policy-makers and public should also unite in their efforts to eliminate stigma and stereotypes by raising public awareness and shaping public opinion of an issue as well as draw the attention of policy-makers most resistant to changing the policies, ensure parental involvement in order  to change the ways the parents raise their children through various information sources and media platforms. The more the parents are open to talk with their children about the sexuality and associated issues, the less likely are children to choose the wrong path or encounter its harmful consequences (Krebbekx 2018).

NOTES:

Gerdts, C., Dobkin, L., Foster, D. G., & Schwarz, E. B. (2016). Side effects, physical health consequences, and mortality associated with abortion and birth after an unwanted pregnancy. Women’s Health Issues26(1), 55-59.

Krebbekx, W. (2018). What else can sexuality education do? Logics and effects in classroom practices. Sexualities, 1363460718779967.

Nikken, P., & de Graaf, H. (2013). Reciprocal relationships between friends’ and parental mediation of adolescents’ media use and their sexual attitudes and behavior. Journal of youth and adolescence42(11), 1696-1707.

Wight, D. (2005). Sex Education: The Way Ahead. Available at: https://www.open.edu/openlearn/body-mind/health/health-studies/sex-educationthe-way-ahead Accessed: 15 February 2019.

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