Argentina: The ignored law of Sexual Education

Even though the implementation of Sexual Education has been mandatory in all schools in Argentina since 2006, many young people around the country still have no access to basic knowledge of their sexual rights.

We finish our look into the fight for Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Argentina by looking at how two different communities, in La Plata and Tucuman, address the lack of Sexual Education available to young people.

For young people, having Sexual Education classes is key to learning about their changing bodies, desires and relationships. But, equally important, these classes are necessary for them to know their sexual and reproductive rights and learn that what they do with their bodies is their choice.

To address this necessity, in 2006 Argentina approved a law that required all schools in the country to provide their students with Sexual Education classes. The law (known as “Ley de Educación Sexual Integral” in its original Spanish) aimed to allow students to learn about the “biological, psychological, social, emotional and ethical aspects” of sexuality, to promote “responsible attitudes towards sexuality” and to assure “equality in both treatment and opportunity for men and women”.

However, many schools throughout the country didn’t include Sexual Education in their curriculum, be it because of budget reasons or because of religious pressure. Joaco Herrero, a young activist from La Plata, says about the lack of implementation: “most times it’s negligence, but there are schools that even position themselves against the law, avoid talks of the topic in class and censor students”.

Joaco Herrero talks during a Sexual and Reproductive Rights workshop. © Demian Marchi
Joaco Herrero talks during a Sexual and Reproductive Rights workshop. © Demian Marchi

For Herrero, his fight started in 2015. 9 years after the law was approved, Herrero’s school still didn’t have any kind of Sexual Education. Herrero, who had recently reached out to Amnesty International Argentina to learn more about their work, decided to take action and coordinated the first Sexual and Reproductive Rights workshop in his school. “We created the workshop as a reaction to the school’s lack of response” Herrero explains.

The workshop was a success. That first workshop led to many others, the number increasing every year. “We did six this past year, each was attended by 30 students” says Herrero. The workshops have different topics, but they all revolve around gender and sexuality: sex, abortion, youth, equality. The students like the workshops because of “the comfortable environment we created” points out Herrero. Students can express themselves, ask questions, there are no taboos. It’s all about participation.

Even though the school implemented basic Sex Education classes after the workshops gained popularity, it wasn’t enough. “They were irregular, inefficient and simply not enough” explains Herrero, “they weren’t continuous, and they mostly focused on biology”. Herrero and a group of friends decided then to create a student group, UTOPIA, to represent those students that felt ignored by the school administration. In 2017, they ran for the Student Centre elections and won. It was a big step: “it opened up the doors for us to contribute on measures”. Thanks to their new influencing position and the constant debate between administration and students, they achieved a curriculum reform that finally included Sexual Education as a continued subject.

“I think Human Rights Education not only helped teach students about Sexual Education, but it also gave us the tools to know what the law said and gave us the possibility to claim our rights from the school’s administration” says Herrero of the importance of Human Rights Education.

Thanks to Herrero’s ongoing efforts, this year his school will, for the first time, provide Sexual Education classes. They are optimistic. “The curriculum has been designed by school teachers who have worked in optative classes on gender-based violence and diversity” explains Herrero. Their hope is that the law is finally properly implemented in the school, so that young people are “empowered through their rights”. “This will not only make students realise when their rights are violated, but will also help improve their knowledge of their personal and sexual relationships, giving them access to their right to choose” predicts Herrero.

Other regions in the country live through an even more difficult situation. These are traditional areas, many times impoverished and with a lack of educational possibilities, where religion is a way of life and sexuality is taboo. Schools provide little or no Sexual Education, and many young people don’t even have the possibility to access the little information available on sexual health.

One of these regions is Tucuman, in northwest Argentina. Sexual Education wasn’t even considered an option in the area, and none of the schools have implemented the law. Many young people are only able to attend primary school before having to drop off. Tucuman, strongly Catholic, declared itself “the city that embraces life” to position itself against the abortion bill.

In 2017, through Amnesty International Human Rights Education programme the “It’s My Body” project (present in Argentina, Chile and Peru and focusing on teaching youth about their sexual and reproductive rights) was launched in Tucuman. In partnership with ANDHES, a law firm specialised in human rights, the project worked to bring the opportunity to learn about sexuality to a group of young people from Tucuman.

Members of the youth group organised by Amnesty International Argentina and ANDHES in Tucuman, Argentina. © Fernanda Rotondo
Members of the youth group organised by Amnesty International Argentina and ANDHES in Tucuman, Argentina. © Fernanda Rotondo

Agustina Taibo Soler, one of the coordinators from ANDHES, explains learning about their rights has been “a radical change” in the lives of the members of the group. The group is a weekly opportunity for them to “talk about things they can’t talk about anywhere else” she says. This opportunity has allowed them to learn about things they never knew about, particularly regarding sexuality, domestic violence and minority discrimination.

The workshops they participate in have created a lot of positive impact. Young participants explain how, before the workshops, they were completely against abortion. Now, they realise they didn’t really understand the issue and they even asked for the green handkerchiefs that, in Argentina, mean support for the right to abortion.

Their new knowledge about their rights, which is defined by Taibo Soler as “eye-opening”, has however been a cause of tension within families. The young activists’ families are happy about them acquiring new knowledge and tools, coming back to education, however, they don’t support the topics the workshops focus on. At home, if they want to talk about what they have learned, they are either silenced or told they are wrong.

However, the group has planted the seed of activism and social justice in these young people. A group of participants helped a friend talk to his mother when she kicked him out after he told her he was gay. Thanks to their intervention, the boy and his mother are in speaking terms again.

The young activists continue to do their work, talking and learning, taking action and opening conversations with their friends, breaking taboos and creating a community of informed youth that can, finally, claim their rights. As for the future, they just want to keep on learning, and keep on fighting.

To learn more about sexual and reproductive rights, check out Amnesty International’s Module: “Respect My Rights, Respect My Dignity: Sexual and Reproductive Rights are Human Rights”, available in English, Spanish and French.