Tunisia Becomes First Arab Nation to Launch Sex Ed in Schools

Tunisian schoolchildren sing their national anthem in a primary school in the Tunis suburb of Ariana on March 9, 2016 after having observed a minute of silence for the victims of attacks blamed on the Islamic State group that left dozens dead. Tunisian forces repelled a jihadist assault on a …
FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images

Tunisia has become the first Arab nation to implement sex ed in its schools, thanks to a partnership with the progressive United Nations Population Fund and abortion rights groups.

The Tunisian Education Ministry has joined with the U.N. agency, the Tunisian Sexual and Reproductive Health Association, and the Arab Institute for Human Rights to create a sex ed curriculum that will be implemented beginning in kindergarten, reports the Media Line.

According to the report, the curriculum will be piloted for two years in several locations throughout the country prior to being instituted nationally.

“That Tunisia should take a pioneering role in Arab sex education is unsurprising given how progressive the country has been for decades when it comes to gender equality and rights,” journalist Khaled Diab told the Media Line.

In 1965, the report noted, Tunisia legalized abortion and launched a nationwide effort to lower its birth rate.

The country emerged as increasingly progressive and well-acquainted with the Internet since the 2011 Arab Spring revolt that brought a change in government.

More recent social changes include the rise of a Me Too movement and outrage over sexual harassment.

Slah Zouaghi, spokesperson for the Tunisian Embassy in Washington, DC, told the Washington Post the sex ed curriculum targets elementary and middle school students, with the older students learning about pregnancy and abortion.

Feminist author Khedija Arfaoui said the new sex ed curriculum “will protect women and children’s health.”

She said sex ed was initially introduced in Tunisia 50 years ago, but it then stopped due to pushback, a possibility that still exists.

“Many Tunisians are deeply conservative and this can potentially create a backlash,” Diab said. “In addition, making sex education culturally sensitive, as the government intends, could potentially be problematic, given the widespread stigmatization of homosexuality and sex out of wedlock.”

Diab said that while other Arab nations are unlikely to pursue sex ed in their schools, “the hope is that other more progressive Arab societies join Tunisia and help create strong momentum for change in other parts of the region.”

Arfaoui adds she is “thinking in particular of North Africa” as an area that will follow Tunisia’s progressive lead.

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