I’M SET: Implementing Mandatory Sexuality Education for Teens.
I’M SET constituted a best practice for collaboration between civil society, coordinated by the NGO - Cyprus Family Planning Association (CFPA) - which won a grant application (EEA/Norway Grants) to fund the project, that was headed by CFPA Executive Director, Maria Epaminonda. A teachers’ Manual for delivering Comprehensive Sexuality Education was created, while a situation analysis, a literature review on sexuality education methods and materials were conducted in order to gather relevant tools and empirical information, along with focus group discussions exploring middle school students’ and teachers’ needs. Ms. Epaminonda was the soul and mind behind the whole project. With her leadership skills, Ms Epaminonda, managed to coordinate a number of professionals for this task, diffusing belief through democratic procedures. She was also leading the dissemination of the project’s aims, promoting the importance of teenagers's sexual rights, through advocacy meetings, social network.
The project aimed to promote children’s (aged 12 to 15) sexual rights through the implementation of mandatory human rights based Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in middle schools in Cyprus.
- To enhance teachers’ effectiveness to deliver Comprehensive Sexuality. Education
- To strengthen children’s access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education.
- To empower children by helping them gain an understanding of their sexual rights and become actively engaged.
- To create awareness on the importance of young people sexual rights among key stakeholders and the general public.
- To enhance the alliance of civil society and government to promote sexual rights through school education.
HOW THE OBJECTIVES WERE ACHIEVED
Ms. Epaminonda’s dedication to the project and collaborative spirit helped the objectives be met while she was coordinating the active involvement and investment of all stakeholders to the project: children aged 12 to 15, lawmakers in Parliament, the Commissioner for Children’s Rights, the Ministry of Education, the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute, middle school teachers, parents associations and the media. Ms Epaminonda’s commitment to the project is a reflection of her commitment to active citizenship. Ms Epaminonda inspired the involvement of many, and encouraged them to reach their potential. She facilitated and managed different aspects of the project with specific timelines and delegated responsibilities among stakeholders in a very clear manner, while also being responsible for the logistics of the project. Ms Epaminonda achieved to develop a sense of ownership on the values of SR among all stakeholders involved, and managed to advocate for CSE, making it a common goal among them.
Sexual rights are controversial and are contested by conservative, religious, cultural and political forces, even though they are an integral part of Human Rights. Determination over one’s own body and sexuality is a basic human right, safeguarded by several international treaties, especially with regard to children who are vulnerable to abuse and bullying.
I’M SET provided for the implementation of CSE in middle schools, inviting teens as active participants and stakeholders. The collaboration between governmental civil society agents and the interaction between young people and adults on such a controversial matter was considered a best practice by the partners involved.
Promoting children’s sexual rights through implementing human rights based Comprehensive Sexuality Education, addresses issues such as respect, tolerance and multicultural understanding, while also promoting actions against homophobia, gender inequality sexual violence.
The likelihood of lasting improvements in civil society increases when government and civil society work together towards a common goal. Moreover, lasting change is more likely when children and young people are part of the change, and are thus able to continue advocating for their SR in the future. It is worth noting that during the implementation of I’M SET, a law was finally passed, obliging the Cyprus Ministry of Education to provide sexuality education. This is evidence of real legal gains relating to the project. The project also resulted in a discussion of sexuality education in Parliament, as well as unprecedented media attention on sexuality education in schools and the sexual rights of teens.
The project itself did not have any major challenges. However, one of the biggest challenges faced during the implementation of the project in 2015, was the fact that the Organization leading the project was facing serious financial difficulties and as a result Ms Epaminonda was left as the only staff member of the organization. Ms Epaminonda had not only had all the responsibilities of the running projects and daily work of the Association, but at the same time she was faced with the biggest challenge of all, the sustainability of the organization. Her endless commitment, her dedication to the values of the Association, her positive attitude and spirit towards life have helped her to overcome this challenge, and invest her time in finding solutions.
The project was successfully implemented because a sense of ownership was achieved for all parties involved. An essential factor is having clear roles and responsibilities. The coordinator was experienced and provided support at any time during the implementation of the project to ensure success. Having a clear and feasible planning of the various management stages is essential reduced the level of risk. The choice that has been made by Ms Epaminonda initially for the partners was the right one. As the active stakeholders in the sphere of sexual rights for teens were the most appropriate ones. But still, once again the success of any project comes to the people. The working team of the project was outstanding. Besides having the required knowledge and skills to deliver the project’s outputs an outstanding interest on sexual rights and sexuality education was shared and an admirable enthusiasm while working on the project. Creating a sense of ownership and believe can be powerful.