Guest Blog by YCRH member, Melissa Fairey
In the current climate in Ontario, and across Canada, where sexual education curriculum is being challenged and debated, understanding and discussing youth health sexual and reproductive health rights is critical. As a young woman growing up in a catholic school system with limited discussions and resources on sexual and reproductive health, the understanding of not only my rights, but my access was a huge barrier. Most of the sexual education I received in schools growing up was heteronormative (focusing only on traditional male/female and heterosexuality as the only way) and non-inclusive without any mention of contraception, abortion services and the rights afforded to me as a young person when accessing sexual health services. Myself, and a large number of my peers, spent a large majority of our youth confused about vital things pertaining to our sexual health: Was what I experienced sexual assault and what do I do next? Where and how can I access contraception? Where can I get an abortion?
A few key reminders on the rights of young people, as it relates to your own body:
- If you are under 16 years of age and your doctor believes that you are mentally capable of understanding what an abortion is and the consequences of making the decision to have an abortion, you do not require parental consent.
- The Tackling Violent Crime Act raises the legal age of sexual consent in Canada to16 from 14, the first time it has been raised since 1892. But the law includes a “close-in-age exception,” meaning 14- and 15-year-olds can have sex with someone who is less than five years older
- Rape is about power and control, not sex. Clothes are not a risk factor. What someone is wearing is never an indication of anything other than their fashion choice. Uninvited touching and/or comments are never acceptable (https://www.ontario.ca/page/lets-stop-sexual-harassment-and-violence)
- Comments directed against a person’s sexuality can be a form of sexual harassment and violence and can have a negative impact on self-esteem and well-being. This is against the law (https://www.ontario.ca/page/lets-stop-sexual-harassment-and-violence)
The integration of sexual health education, which not only focuses on contraception, but also on integral areas such consent and sexual assault, fills the gaps where young people, especially in rural catholic based schools, can receive these resources and understand them. I have been committed to ensuring that young people in my own community have a different narrative around sexual health. In collaboration with Women Deliver and Bayer, I founded the York Region Youth Health Network and York Region Youth Sexual Health Empowerment Project which provides digital, free and accessible resources to young people in numerous languages through e-book, website platform and workshops. But there is still a lot of work to be done, especially in Ontario, to ensure that the young women I grew up with and knew, who faced sexual violence, unplanned pregnancies and high instances of STI diagnosis are the last generation without easy access to information, resources and SRHR rights.
Melissa is an advocate who is passionate about sexual and reproductive health and rights policy. She has worked in Chile, Georgia, and Indonesia on development projects focusing on health sanitation and women’s health initiative. Melissa is the Regional Focal Point of Western Europe / North America for the UN Major Group for Children and Youth – Humanitarian Assistance. She is the founder of the York Region Youth Health Network and a World Contraception Day Ambassador for 2016. Melissa is currently located in the Netherlands as a Msc Candidate in Public Policy and Human Development at United Nations University. Find her on Twitter: @mellefair
This blog is a part of our series on youth health access across Canada. Check back next week to read about Clarissa’s story.