What picture comes to your mind when you imagine the future of a girl from a poor community who becomes pregnant before 18? Usually it’s a fairly bleak image. The chances of the girl finishing her education dramatically decreases and escaping the generational cycle of poverty seems even more difficult to achieve.
Sex Education is key to preventing pregnancy amongst young girls in poor communities. Of the 16 million girls aged 15-19 who give birth each year, 95% occur in developing countries (1).
The solution seems so simple: Provide sex education and access to contraception, prevent pregnancy, keep the girl in school, and give her the opportunity to aim a little higher in life.
Sadly, the reality is much more complicated. In many cultures the topic of sex is seen as taboo, and certainly not a conversation that an adolescent can ask his or her parents about. In environments such as these, where vital information about how our bodies work is restricted, it is often not long before an unwanted pregnancy occurs. The cultural and religious beliefs that often surround the concept of sex can often make it almost impossible to provide decent Sex Education to young, confused adolescents.
One inspirational Social Entrepreneur in the field of sex education is Afsan Chowdhury. An Ashoka Fellow and current Director of Advocacy and Human Rights in BRAC, it is Chowdhury’s work in the area of Sex Education that interests me the most. He began a NGO called HASAB in 1994 that works with providing sex education to prevent pregnancy and the spread of HIV, STDS, and AIDS (2). What makes HASAB so unique it focuses on teaching Bangladeshi parents and religious leaders the importance of sex education. According to Chowdhury, their motto is “convince, not confrontation” (3). Chowdhury believes that by tackling the cultural barriers that are impeding proper sex education, HASAB will reach the heart of the issue. HASAB feels that teenagers will take sex education more seriously if it comes from a respected and close figure in their life; but this can only happen if the taboo that surrounds sex is broken down.
David Bornstein, author of the all-you-need-to know about social entrepreneurship How to Change the World (2004), describes six qualities that define a successful social entrepreneur:
Willingness to Self-Correct ; Willingness to Share Credit ; Willingness to Break Free of Established Structures ; Willingness to Cross Disciplinary Boundaries ; Willingness to Work Quietly ; Strong Ethical Impetus
In my opinion, Chowdhury displays all of these traits, although some more then others. By deciding to create a center designed to turn traditionally-minded Bangladeshi parents into sex-education instructors, Chowdhury was certainly breaking the established structure and blazing a new way to provide sex education. I feel the creation of HASAB also involved a lot of self-correction, as they designed ways to portray sensitive information so it could be readily accepted and acted upon by parents and religious leaders.
- Will sex education reduce or end AIDS, adolescent pregnancy, prostitution, sexual exploitation? Frankly, we do not know. But silence on sexual matters does not appear to be an option either ideologically or practically. Ideologically, ignorance is no advantage when others have knowledge, especially knowledge misused, and people who know nothing of sex can take risks unknowingly and be taken advantage of.
MARTHA CORNOG, 2003.