by Yassine Souidi
Sex education provokes debate in Morocco every time it is brought up among educators and decision makers. Nowadays, the term “sexual “ suggests its reduction to the acquisition of a given sexual know-how, which is independent from age and marital status. Both restrictive and permissive, this definition of sex education turns the latter into a disquieting issue within a social context which, despite itself, is entering into the era of sex dis-institutionalisation. In this sense, it is both the transmission of a bio-medical and psychological knowledge, and an ethic based on the valuation of self-gratification and equality between the sexes. As such, sex education is not automatically accepted, for – in the name of a mystified Arabo-Islamic specificity – the tendency is to always link sexuality to marriage. Accordingly, sex education is far from being an obvious notion.
To that effect, three main questions arise:
• The first is that of the evolution of relations between generations within the Moroccan family.
• The second concerns the evolution of relations between the two sexes. If the principle of the equality of the sexes is contested, sex education remains inconceivable: it is not possible to teach the superiority of men over women starting from the biological, preventative and other contents of sex education.
• The third question it is that of convergence between the different agents of sex education. Obviously, a coherent sex education cannot be secured by educators who themselves have not been well-trained or do not agree with the principles of sex education.
According to the national consultations led by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, 6% of the youth population put health at the top of their priorities 1 . Also, the 2006-2007 National survey on Multiple Indicators and the Health of Youth (ENIMSJ) 2 revealed that:
• 53% of girls declared having been shocked by their first menstruations;
• 15% of young persons (boys= 19%, girls = 11%) have no knowledge of any means of contraception,
• 85% of young persons know nothing about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI). This percentage culminates to 95.6% when it comes to the youth put together with the 20% of the socio-economically poorest category.
• 20 % of the youth have never heard of A.I.D.S. Out of those who have heard of this epidemic, only 61% reported knowing a means of prevention against it.
The paradigm adopted by the public authority
As of 1966, the state’s management of the interest of public authority in sexuality has been located within family planning. This took the form of programs of education on population matters (including female and family educations). The present movement to a more general paradigm of reproductive and sexual health goes along with a passage to health education and, surreptitiously, to sex education.
In 1972, the World Health Organization (WHO) conference defined sexual health as being the capacity to control sexual and reproductive behavior in accordance with social and personal ethics, and as a deliverance from fear, shame and guilt.
Sexual health is the liberation from false beliefs which may inhibit sexual response, and interfere with sexual relations. It is the integration of a sexed person’s somatic, affective, intellectual and social dimension, the ultimate goal being his or her personality development.
Despite the presence of the notion of sexual health in the WHO’s archives, it was not until the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) that it was promoted into an international policy. Sexual health is the auto-determination of sexual behavior by itself without the interference of any constraining non-sexual factor in the sexual exchange. In its 11th Chapter, the ICPD’s action plan calls for the promotion of a “responsible sexual behavior”, based on willful consent, and on the prevention and treatment of both genital tract-related diseases and STIs. It is within this educational paradigm, which is geared to education, that the notion of sex education reappears in an attempt to establish a universally recognized model.
The content of Sex Education
On the basis of a literature review of the key Moroccan publications, sex education has five main components:
• A biological content which consists in transmitting scientific knowledge of sexual and physiological anatomy.
• A preventive content which is founded on the distinction between the healthy and the detrimental by exposing STIs and their dangers.
• A contraceptive content which, by relying on the distinction between the useful and the useless, consists in exposing contraceptive techniques.
• A normative content which puts a dividing line between the permissible and the forbidden and which, in sexual matters, imposes a line of conduct on a society which perceives itself as being Islamic.
• An erotic content which caters for desire, pleasure, anomalies and malfunctioning of sexual behavior.
Prior to being faced with the necessity for a comprehensive sex education, as has been formerly defined, the different national policies in Morocco reduced sex education to its contraceptive content exclusively through the policies of family planning and population education before enlarging today to include its preventive content. The Islamic States that attended the ICPD adversely reacted to Chapters 4 and 7 of its Action Program: for the official spokespersons of these States, all the notions relating to sex and reproductive education must be treated in compliance with the chari‘â.
Elementary and first-cycle basic education seeks to integrate some notions of sex education in a transversal program linked to education in population matters. The objective here is to sensitize the youth about national and international demographic phenomena and their relationship with economic, social, cultural and environmental data. Behind this stands the purpose of rationalizing the youth’s behavior in compliance with the civilizational and religious foundations of Moroccan society.
At the level of school curricula, sex education is not instituted as a specific and autonomous course. It has been integrated in different, already existing, courses, namely Arabic, history and geography, Islamic education, natural sciences, and female-family education. According to the Ministry of National Education, the reasons for integrating sex education in the existing courses is to avoid the overloading of pupils and students with an additional course, especially given that several notions of sex education are already embedded in the courses that are being taught.
Female – Family Education
Taught in arabic since the 1985 – 86 school year, feminine education is a course which, until 1996, was taught only to junior high-school girls.
A first step in the leveling process between the two sexes had been fulfilled in 1996. The Minister for National Education Rachid Belmokhtar said in December 1997: “It has been decided that both girls and boys should take advantage of this course, given the fact that it concerns the family. It deserves to be labeled ‘family’ – instead of ‘feminine’ – education.”
It is reported that this course finds its place among the non-generalized courses such as industrial technology, plastic education, and farming technology. The course is taught at the 9th grade at the rate of 18 lessons with a time span of two hours per lesson. The manual, however, has remains unchanged. Young boys are very embarrassed to use a course book called Female Education.
Basically, this course is dominated by the reproduction paradigm, and excludes any conveyance of knowledge about desire or pleasure.
At the second grade level of the literary section, the program seeks to consolidate the students’ acquisitions concerning the body’s immune reactions in order to sensitize them to the importance of prevention and the limits of therapy. In this scope, historical data on AIDS are analyzed, AIDS transmission modes and prevention methods identified, and HIV screening (through the Elisa and Westerne Blot tests) presented.
At the third grade level of the experimental science, agricultural science, and literary sections, human reproduction is studied through the following items: anatomy and physiology, the male and female genital tracts, fecundation, fetus development, contraceptive techniques STI prevention (gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis B and AIDS). Immunology is dealt with through the AIDS example.
As can be seen, sex education in school education teaches, on the one hand, a biological course content which is strongly linked to reproduction and demography. On the other hand, the course content is preventive and is linked to STIs and AIDS, the normative reference being that of Islamic education. These contents are acquired by means of pedagogical participatory methods which are characterized by course facilitation, file preparation, free discussion and using audio-visual course materials. Thanks to these methods, these activities make it possible to engage an open relationship between the teacher and the student, which, in turn, will break the sex-related taboos and make possible the discussion of any sensitive topic. What is at stake in sex education is not the vertical transmission of objective knowledge, but rather encouraging responsible behavior and attitudes while addressing the issues of sexuality.
As a secondary socialization, sex-education in mixed classes also contributes to a rupture with sexist and segregationist family primary socialization.
The evaluation studies which have been conducted by the Ministry of National Education show that school education has little effect on demographic behavior, especially in rural areas. The insufficiency of teachers’ training in population matters, the break between the school and its rural environment do account for the small impact of these courses. Besides, the integration of sex education in the courses which are already taught blocks the emergence of a new approach to the issue. This has been confirmed by the two surveys : “STDs in Morocco: Social Construction and therapeutic behaviors” 3 and “Youth, Aids and Islam in Morocco” 4 .
In the field of eroticism, informing the youth is no longer the monopoly of traditional educators, parents or teachers. Informative and educational verbal exchange on sexual issues continues to be made between peers in informal milieus, either amongst boys or amongst girls.
Finally, a true dialogue between scientists and religious scholars is necessary in order to come up with a coherent policy.
1 National Consultations of the Ministry of Youth and Sport [MYS], the National Integrated Youth Strategy [NIYS] 2009 Fr. Consultation nationale du MJS-SNIJ, 2009 = Ministère de la Jeunesse et des Sports –Stratégie Nationale Intégrée de la Jeunesse, 2009
2 Fr. ENIMSJ = l’Enquête Nationale à Indicateurs Multiples et Santé des Jeunes
3 Les MST au Maroc. Construction sociale et comportement thérapeutique (L. Manhart), Rabat, Ministère de la Santé/Université de Washington/USAID, Imprimerie Temara, 1997, 220 pages.
4 “Moroccan Youth, Sex and Islam ”, Middle East Report, Washington, Spring 1998, N° 206, pp. 16-17.