French Secretary of Women's Rights Pascale Boistard, U.N., March 9, 2015
French Secretary of Women's Rights Pascale Boistard, U.N., March 9, 2015

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Despite her country’s leadership status on sexual and reproductive rights, France’s secretary of women’s rights, Pascale Boistard, says there is a problem area.

The public schools are failing to provide consistent and comprehensive sexual education, Boistard told a panel here on March 9. "Sex-education sessions in schools are not equally taught," she said.

Boistard said she has appealed to the French High Council of Gender Equality to address the problem.

Her comments, during a panel on the sidelines of the annual meeting here of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, spurred a flurry of interest and follow up questions.

Like many European countries, France has committed to a curriculum, that–in addition to teaching about procreation and sexual intercourse–also addresses sexuality in the broader context of society, gender inequalities and relationship dynamics, according to a document distributed by the French Family Planning during the panel.

Since 2001, middle, secondary and high schools in France have been obliged to teach three sexual education classes per year.

But the age-appropriate lessons do not always offer a holistic approach of sexual rights and gender equality.

For instance, most classes will focus on procreation and what protections to take to prevent sexually transmitted diseases –STDs– and unwanted pregnancies. However, women’s right to choose their own contraception can get slighted or not even mentioned. The idea that access to reproductive rights is a key component of gender equality can often get overlooked.

Boistard emphasized the importance of discussing sexuality "without lecturing any students and to give the youth a space to speak freely."

The women’s rights secretary expressed concern over the rise of radicalism in France, but didn’t specify a particular type of radicalism.

"We are having a difficult time implementing sexual education in schools and even more since we are now facing a rise of radical groups that do not want to see sex education being taught to the children."

In some cases, this leads to children being misinformed, she said, either by their parents or, in some cases, by the teachers.

"We have to regain some of the ground lost. It is out of question to allow any religious beliefs rule over the republican law," added Boistard, drawing cheers and applause.

Boistard reminded the audience that France in 2013 made contraception free and anonymous for girls aged 15-18 and that same year made abortion fully reimbursable for all women. She also said–as already widely known in France–that the government will be launching a national hotline in September dedicated to sexuality, reproductive rights and abortion.

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