This is the summary of an interview conducted with Arianna Marnicio, who is a research analyst for women's rights in the Middle East and worked for some time for NGOs promoting sexual education in the Lebanon and Jordan. She gave me an introduction to the status of sex education of women in Lebanon and Jordan.
The level of sex education in those two countries is poor. Sexual health, safe sex practices and family planning are not part of the national curriculum of the schools. At the same time, due to cultural restrictions, parents do not talk about these topics with their children. Therefore, young women are generally clueless of their reproductive system. It happens regularly that girls think that they are punished by god when they experience their period for the first time.
Part of the reason why parents don’t want to talk about sex with their daughters is, that they want to keep them pristine. Virginity is a highly valued theme and every woman is expected to enter marriage as a virgin. In practice, many couples perform unprotected anal sex which leads to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Given that talking about sex is considered inappropriate in this culture, men are also rather clueless about sex and contraception. Men are expected to know how “it” works and it would be unmanly to ask. As a result, many families have more children than they can financially afford. The women, who generally have a better overview over the resources available in a family as they are responsible for groceries and child care, are unable to discuss family planning because of their lack of knowledge and their inferior social status.
The level of sexual education does not vary much between rural and urban parts and wealthy and poor families of the countries. While conservative, poor and rural communities tend to be less educated, the general level of education is poor.
One of the biggest hurdles for outside NGOs engaged in sexual education is that young women are shielded from the rest of the society. Sexual education cannot happen in school due to a restrictive government nor in church due to its religious restrictions. Young women usually only meet with other female family members, rarely with outsiders. While many young women have smartphones, they either share their phones with their siblings or their smartphones will be regularly checked by their parents. After marriage Jordanian women gather only with other family members, older females may have the role of giving advice in regards of family planning. There are only very few access points for outsiders to get in contact with the girls.
Arianna sees a potential opportunity in the small window between High School and Marriage. While women are generally protected, they are also valued in Jordanian society. Therefore, many women are send to universities after school. These women turn into very ambitious learners, knowing that their time in this relatively liberal environment is limited. Hence, they strive to learn as much as possible, certificates for accomplishments being a major motivation for many. Potential sexual education within the boundaries of what is socially acceptable could take place in this time frame using the drive of the young woman to learn.
She also mentions that she sees a link between the empowerment of the women and sexual education. Sexual education must not be an independent topic but connected to gender equality. Only strong women are able to discuss family planning with their husband given that they are educated on this specific field.