Wednesday

28th Sep 2022

Opinion

EU needs comprehensive 'sexuality education'

  • The patriarchal power structures on which European societies are built are challenged when young women see themselves as men's equals in sex and relationships (Photo: European Commission)

Could education contribute to creating a world free from gender-based violence? At UK-based think-tank GenPol, we believe so.

In the wake of the global #MeToo movement our policy paper shows that comprehensive sexuality education is a vastly underused resource across EU member states to tackle gender-based violence.

Gendered violence in Europe

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Violence against women is prevalent in the EU.

One in three (33 percent) European women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15, nearly half (43 percent) have been subject to some form of psychological violence by a current or former partner, and one in twenty (5 percent) has been raped at least once.

Factors such as race, disability, and sexual orientation often compound gender-based violence.

The potential of sexuality education

Comprehensive sexuality education is crucial to addressing such endemic violence, as it challenges the societal and attitudinal foundations upon which gendered violence is built.

It combats pervasive misinformation on sex and sexuality, and helps teenagers to develop positive attitudes and values with respect to themselves, their bodies, and each other.

The patriarchal power structures on which European societies are built are challenged when young women see themselves as men's equals in sex and relationships.

Similarly, educational programmes that are LGBT+ inclusive and sensitive to matters of race and disability have been shown to reduce hate crimes and discrimination.

If young people are not encouraged to challenge gendered stereotypes about family life, sex roles, and sexuality, then inequality, harassment and even violence become less easily recognisable as wrong.

Classroom-based education that covers these psychosocial components prevents young people from receiving a wholly warped or absent narrative on sex and relationships.

The ideal sexuality education, however, is far from the norm across the EU.

The subject is mandatory by law in some form in nearly all EU countries, but it is mostly reproduction- and biology-centred, covering topics such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections (STIs). The important psychosocial elements mentioned above are largely absent.

A European approach

Given the subject's potential to tackle the violence that women across the EU face, we need to adopt a European approach to sexuality education.

The time is ripe for such a move, in the wake of #MeToo and in light of the growing commitment to the creation of a European Education Area.

Sexuality education falls under the remit of the EU's key educational competencies: it is necessary for every citizen's health, safety, development, and inclusion.

Additionally there is a pressing need to speak to young people about their rights and responsibilities online; 20 percent of European women have experienced cyber harassment, phenomena such as revenge porn pose a serious risk to young women's dignity and safety, and sexually violent online content is easily accessible.

Investing in a common educational framework, resources, and training would be an investment in women's wellbeing.

Adopting a European approach to sexuality education would present an ambitious and progressive agenda on the use of learning to safeguard women's fundamental rights in the Union.

Eradicating violence against women through education should be part of the 'future of Europe' that is being so heavily debated at the moment.

European investment in research

To get to this stage, greater investment in research is needed.

Currently, there is no common effort to research the link between sexuality education and gender-based violence at European level.

Further, there is little comprehensive, longitudinal data on rates of violence against women at both national and European level.

A lack of empirical research on which to build advocacy efforts stalls progress and thus an active shift towards data-gathering and research-informed educational exchange is required.

Data challenges are compounded by the fact that countries with little gender-sensitive education are often those where fewer crimes against women are reported, because survivors cannot speak up or do not necessarily recognise harmful behaviours as wrong.

Much more research is needed in order to truly understand the complexities of violence against women and thus design effective preventative educational programmes.

European and national funding opportunities should be created both to support research on this topic and to facilitate collaboration between different European stake-holders.

The #MeToo movement made clear that European women are standing up to sexual harassment, assault, and violence.

Comprehensive sexuality education is an important tool though which this can be challenged, and Europe's increasing appetite for combatting violence and for European-wide education means now is the time to adopt a common approach to the topic.

Committing to research, investing in education, and championing women will propel Europe towards a future where women no longer have to say 'me too'.

Nathalie Greenfield is a research associate at GenPol: Gender and Policy Insights, a think tank consultancy and social enterprise advocating for gender equality, and works at the European Parliament

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Can King Charles III reset the broken Brexit relationship?

The Queen's funeral was an impressive demonstration of solidarity from the EU towards a country that left the Union in 2020, and with whom the EU's relations have never recovered. Can the new King Charles III build bridges to Brussels?

Column

EU should admonish less, and listen more, to the Global South

Whether on Russia, or gas, or climate change, or food security, the EU's constant finger-wagging and moralising is becoming unbearably repetitive and self-defeating. Most countries in the Global South view it as eurocentric and neo-colonial.

Column

EU should admonish less, and listen more, to the Global South

Whether on Russia, or gas, or climate change, or food security, the EU's constant finger-wagging and moralising is becoming unbearably repetitive and self-defeating. Most countries in the Global South view it as eurocentric and neo-colonial.

News in Brief

  1. EU to ban Russian products worth €7bn a year more
  2. Denmark: CIA did not warn of Nord Stream attack
  3. Drone sightings in the North Sea 'occurred over months'
  4. Gazprom threatens to cut gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine
  5. New compromise over EU energy emergency measures
  6. 15 states push for EU-wide gas price cap
  7. EU: Nord Stream explosions 'result of a deliberate act'
  8. EU okays €21bn Covid-recovery funding for Italy amid concern

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. Netherlands tops EU social safety net for the poor
  2. New EU rules to make companies liable for their AI failures
  3. Can King Charles III reset the broken Brexit relationship?
  4. Meloni's navy-blockade plan to stop Libya migrants 'unlikely'
  5. Underwater explosions were detected near Nord Stream leaks
  6. EU countries stall new pesticide rules, blame Ukraine war
  7. The UN's Uyghur report must push EU into China sanctions
  8. Russian diamonds ban 'would cost 10,000 jobs', Antwerp claims

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us