April 13, 2024

ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia – “I embrace these conversations as normal and healthy,” 18-year-old Adiya told UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. Adiya is one of thousands of adolescents in Mongolia to have had age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education integrated into her secondary school curriculum. But unlike many of her peers, Adiya lives with a visual impairment.

“[These lessons] have enabled me to communicate effectively with my family and health-care providers about my sexual and reproductive health needs.”

Historically, young people like Adiya have faced significant challenges to accessing comprehensive sexuality education in Mongolia. Research shows that health education teachers in the country find it much more difficult to relay information on sexual and reproductive health and rights to students with disabilities.“We include topics for personal development and hygiene that are easier for students with disabilities to understand,” one special school teacher reported in 2022. “Topics such as sexuality, reproductive health, sexually transmitted diseases and sexual violence are taught little or not at all.”

Schools and teachers struggle with a lack of access to appropriate training, equipment and resources to support students with disabilities. But with a national commitment to inclusive comprehensive sexuality education and support from UNFPA, things have begun to change.

Fulfilling the promise

In 2019, the Mongolian government noted there had been no stable decrease in rates for adolescent abortion, unintended pregnancy and childbirth, and subsequently made a pledge “to provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education to all, including adolescents, youth [and] people with disabilities”.

The year before, health education had been reintroduced into school curricula as a standalone subject, and the contents of courses updated to align with international standards. Up from nine hours in 2018, students today undergo 36 hours of health programming that cover topics such as sexual and reproductive health and the prevention of gender-based violence.

Teachers are on the front lines of these reforms, with UNFPA supporting through training on comprehensive sexuality education.

Kherlen teaches health education at the Bayangobi soum school in Uvurkhangai province, and says that the lessons have made students more open, engaged, and willing to discuss sensitive topics. This in turn creates a safe and inclusive environment for learning.

Shifting perspectives

According to UNFPA research, young people with disabilities around the world report low levels of knowledge about their sexual and reproductive health, including the use of condoms and other contraceptives.

Research also shows that comprehensive sexuality education encourages young people to use contraceptives more often and decreases their risk of sexually transmitted infections.

In Mongolia, the rate of unintended pregnancies fell by about a third between 2015 and 2019 among women and girls aged 15-49, according to Guttmacher.

Information is power – and for young people like 17-year-old Bilguun, who lives with a hearing impairment, sexuality education has made a difference.

“I have realized many misconceptions I held about sexual health and learned about unhealthy practices,” he said. “With the things I learned, I feel more confident about protecting myself and making better choices.”


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