HOW ARE WOMEN IN ARAB NATIONS PUSHING FOR SEX EDUCATION?
WOMEN IN ARAB NATIONS ARE TAKING TO SOCIAL MEDIA FOR SEXUAL HEALTH EDUCATION AMID A DEARTH OF KNOWLEDGE FROM SCHOOLS AND GOVERNMENTAL BODIES. THESE PLATFORMS PROVIDE A SAFE SPACE FOR WOMEN – AS WELL AS TRANS AND GNC PEOPLE – TO LEARN ABOUT THEIR BODIES AND SEXUALITIES IN ARABIC FOR THE FIRST TIME.
[originally commissioned by CANVAS8].
HIGHLIGHTS + DATA
- Social media-based communities in the SWANA region are filling the sexual education gap that exists due to a lack of formal or social acknowledgement
- The prevailing cultural context can prevent women from seeking sexual pleasure for themselves and contributes to unwanted pregnancies
- Many activist groups in this space seek to break down taboos and myths while advocating for women’s rights, body positivity, and LGBTQ inclusion
- Just one out of 20 Arab nations analysed by the United Nations Population Fund offers comprehensive sex ed in schools UNFPA 2020
- An estimated 40% of pregnancies in Arab countries are unintended GUTTMACHER INSTITUTE 2017
- The global sexual wellness market is set to grow from $30 billion in 2020 to $41.6 billion by 2027 RESEARCHANDMARKETS 2021
“In our region, sex is the opposite of football,” says author Shereen El Feki, recounting a quote from an Egyptian gynaecologist she encountered while writing Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World.“Football everyone is talking about it but hardly anyone plays it. The sex everyone is doing it but no one wants to talk about it.” Generally, sex – or sexual health – isn’t spoken about at home or at school in the SWANA region (South-west Asian/North African), with a 2021 World Economic Forum report highlighting that Arab nations are behind the global curve on gender equity, including sexual education and reproductive health. 
While several countries in the SWANA region had been making moves to improve women’s economic participation in the 2010s, conservatism is once again on the rise due to the emergence of hardline groups, financial pressures, and the COVID-19 crisis.  This may explain why the release of Netflix’s first Arabic movie, Passing Strangers, caused such a stir online. The film focuses on women’s sexuality and LGBTQ rights, and what they represent for religious and family values in the Middle East. Though it prompted outrage from some quarters, El Feki says: “Thank you conservatives for objecting, because it makes the headlines and then people watch the film and then we start having more conversations.” 
The need for open and honest conversations has led some Arab women to come together and launch their own online platforms. Their intervention is useful given that Tunisia is the only country out of 20 Arab nations analysed by the United Nations Population Fund to offer comprehensive sex education in schools.  While their approaches vary, most of these communities focus on education about female anatomy, sex, and dismantling social conventions that are harmful to women. This narrative is not unique to Arab women, however, and reflects a global shift wherein women are building the sexual change they want to see in society. Speaking about the movement towards sexual self-care and the rapidly expanding femtech market, Dominnique Karetsos, the CEO and founder of The Healthy Pleasure Group, explains that sex tech users want “to explore and discover something that traditionally is usually swept under the carpet. So, they are really dismantling the traditional roots of what pleasure exploration looks like.”  In the SWANA context, how can brands understand and support the movement towards openness in sexual education?