Canadian Sexual and Reproductive Health Education in Crisis

Genevieve Westrope, The Unmentionables’ Global Programs Director

The world is currently facing a sexual and reproductive rights crisis. When most of us think of oppression and gender inequality, our minds take us to countries and governments far from home. But some of the scariest trends in women’s reproductive rights and sex education are originating in North America.

On June 7, 2018 the province of Ontario voted in a new Premier who, as part of his platform, promised to rid Ontarian students of the sexual education curriculum brought in by the Liberal government in 2015. Instead, this September, he is reinstating the Health and Physical Education curriculum from 1998; a twenty year old document. Why? Because of provincial-wide outrage from parents and communities over the 2015 additions, which included themes of consent, gender identity, sexual orientation, online safety, and diverse families. The most recent curriculum document also started sexual health education earlier, where students were to learn about their bodies (using anatomically correct language, gasp!) and sexuality in elementary school.

I am not yet a parent, so I cannot justifiably comment on the choices of those who are. However, as an educator, a life-long learner and a member of the human race, I know it is imperative that our education systems reflect our society. And today, in the second half of 2018, society desperately needs to focus on sexual and reproductive health topics. How, after the year we have had—where dozens of predatory men were exposed through the #MeToo movement—do we exclude consent from our children’s education? And why, why is it so threatening to the lives of children for a curriculum document to remind them of their human right to be and love whomever they want? It is not the addition of information that is dangerous; it is the exclusion of it.

Turning the clock back twenty years on this subject threatens the sexual and reproductive rights of men and women across the province. What message this sends to the population--young and old--is that there is something shameful about our sexuality or our bodies; our urges, desires, and needs. We are demonstrating to students that topics like consent, identity, sexuality, diversity, and personal safety are not to be spoken about. This will, inevitably, have a direct impact on their mental and physical health. When we should be moving further away from sexual and bodily stigmatization, we’re inching closer.

June 7 was a very disappointing day for many Ontarians, including myself. It was the day when I could no longer pretend Canada and our provinces were immune to small mindedness, intolerance, and the threat of fascism. I have heeded the warning and am even more committed to providing sexual and reproductive health education to the populations that need it most. Which, as it turns out, is all of us.

Bianca Settino