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.