The Politics of Reproductive Health: Setting the Agenda for Sex Education in Schools

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Gilbert Scott Building - Room 134 (University of Glasgow)
Sarah Cooper , Politics, University of Exeter
The intersection between government agenda and the information received by girls of a school age in regard to their reproductive health is an interesting area of agenda setting study. The unsurprising reluctance of governments to fully engage with the topic, affording schools much of the responsibility of establishing such a policy, particularly in the context of the rise of ‘Academy’ status schools, has set a distinctive tone for this corner of public health. The history of SRE indeed largely demonstrates a loosely regulated set of patchwork initiatives seldom featuring a stern note of top-down governance, and in the competition for space on the formal agenda, sex education is arguably found to lose out in the inevitable levels of disproportionate attention that are coupled with a government’s failure to fully process all issues. Importantly, however, this maligned aspect of reproductive health has been punctuated by a critical event in recent years in the form of the HPV vaccine. This paper seeks to deliberate the reasons for rise and fall of this matter in parliament, and the factors that continue to fuel its policy importance. The analysis uncovers that the ability of debates around the HPV vaccine to discover new venues for attention, or subject to exogenous shocks or ‘windows of opportunity’ has in fact been limited, with the historical development of the treatment adopting an unusual path of gradual adoption in schools. It is in fact therefore a far more fruitful-line-of-inquiry-to-explore-the-manner-in-which-the-issue-has-been-defined-and-expanded-within-a-wider-framework-that-challenges-the-current legislative-limitations-on-reproductive-rights-through-a-public-health-rhetoric.