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Sexual Health Knowledge and Needs: Young Muslim Women in Melbourne, Australia

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In this article, we discuss the sexual health knowledge and needs among young Muslim women living in Melbourne, Australia. Eleven young Muslim women were individually interviewed about issues relating to sexual health knowledge and needs, access to sexual health services, and their experiences of balancing their lives in relation to sexual health. Findings revealed a marked influence of religion and culture on sexual health of young Muslim women. They often faced challenges balancing Muslim culture, Australian culture, and Islamic religion. Our findings have implications for health services in a multicultural society. They could be used to promote culturally sensitive sexual health services for young Muslim women in Australia and elsewhere. In this article, we discuss the sexual health knowledge and sexual health needs of young Muslim women living in Melbourne, Australia. According to Erens et al., 1 cultural influences, such as religious norms, traditions, and gendered
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Sexual Health
Knowledge and Needs:
Young Muslim Women
in Melbourne, Australia
Rebecca M. Meldrum
, Pranee Liamputtong
and Dennis Wollersheim
In this article, we discuss the sexual health knowledge and needs among young
Muslim women living in Melbourne, Australia. Eleven young Muslim women were
individually interviewed about issues relating to sexual health knowledge and needs,
access to sexual health services, and their experiences of balancing their lives in
relation to sexual health. Findings revealed a marked influence of religion and culture
on sexual health of young Muslim women. They often faced challenges balancing
Muslim culture, Australian culture, and Islamic religion. Our findings have implications
for health services in a multicultural society. They could be used to promote cultur-
ally sensitive sexual health services for young Muslim women in Australia and
sexuality, young Muslim women, qualitative research, sexual health needs,
Australia, influence of culture, sexual health knowledge
In this article, we discuss the sexual health knowledge and sexual health needs
of young Muslim women living in Melbourne, Australia. According to Erens
et al.,
cultural influences, such as religious norms, traditions, and gendered
International Journal of Health
0(0) 1–17
!The Author(s) 2015
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0020731415615313
Department of Public Health, School of Psychology and Public Health, College of Science, Health and
Engineering, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Corresponding Author:
Pranee Liamputtong, Department of Public Health, School of Psychology and Public Health, College of
Science, Health and Engineering, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Melbourne, Victoria 3086, Australia.
expectations, can influence how young Muslim women gain knowledge about
sexual health. With a few exceptions, there has been little exploration of the
combined influence of culture and religion on the sexual health needs of young
Muslim women in Australia. Muhammad
suggests that young Muslim women
living in Australia often attempt to balance meeting the expectations of Islamic
religion (an Abrahamic religion revealed in seventh-century Arabia by the
Prophet Muhammad), Muslim culture (a broad and diverse culture of
people who are adherent to Islam), and the Australian culture (a broad and
diverse Western culture). Muhammad’s research
regarding perceptions of
sexual education among Muslim adolescents identified that in both the
public and private spheres, sexuality has a prominent place in Islam. This
research further suggests it is very common for young Muslim women living
in Western societies to attempt to balance their sexuality in both their private
and public spheres in a way that reflects the norms and expectations of both
spheres. Likewise, Rawson and Liamputtong
suggest that the disparity in
cultural and religious norms can result in individuals adopting differing ideas
and attitudes from that of their parents, or seeking to adopt a cultural
approach that allows for meeting both traditional expectations and main-
stream Australian norms. The experience of young Muslim women living in
two different cultures and social systems often influences the meanings young
Muslim women have surrounding their sexuality, as well as the way in which
they express their sexuality.
In response to scant information about the sexual health knowledge and
needs of young Muslim women, in this article we explore their sexual health
knowledge and sexual health needs. This article is one of very few research
studies that use a qualitative approach to examine the influence of Islamic reli-
gion and culture on the sexual health of young Muslim women in Australia. Our
findings have implications for health promotion in a multicultural society. They
could be used to promote culturally sensitive sexual health services for young
Muslim women in Australia and elsewhere. It should be noted that, in this
article, “young people” or “young women” will refer to those aged 18–25
We contend that the specified age group would provide appropriate
knowledge about sexual health from a young person’s perspective.
Sexual Health: Global and National Context
Sexual health is considered to be an important factor for the overall health and
well-being of human beings.
Aspects of sexual health are widely acknowledged
to be both contributors and outcomes of four of the seven Millennium
Developmental Goals.
“Universal education,” “gender equality,” “maternal
health,” and “combat HIV/AIDS” are that sexual health can significantly influ-
ence or be a direct outcome of. It is clear from the World Health Organization
definition of sexual health and the Millennium Developmental Goals that sexual
2International Journal of Health Services 0(0)
health among young people, especially young women, is a multifactorial and
multilayered issue, encompassing complex areas that require sensitive and stra-
tegic approaches.
Blum and Nelson-Mmari
examine the global context of young people’s
sexual health and identify that at least 111 million sexually transmitted diseases
(STIs) occur in people younger than 25 each year. Additionally, the World
Health Organization
estimates that 1 in 20 young people worldwide acquires
an STI each year. McMichael
suggests that young people worldwide are at
risk of adverse consequences of sexual behavior such as increased transmis-
sions of STIs, coerced sexual relationships, and early/unplanned pregnancies.
This is largely attributed to the disempowerment of young people. Couch
et al.
acknowledge that statistics reflecting STIs and unwanted pregnancy
rates appear alarming. However, in contrast to McMichael,
Couch et al.
argue that young people are not universally at risk for STIs and that they can
be responsible and resourceful if they are empowered. Despite the differing
perspectives of McMichael
and Couch et al.,
they both highlight the neces-
sity of empowering young people about sexual health and needs. This is par-
ticularly so for culturally diverse young women who are considered as a
vulnerable population group in the areas of sexual health issues and concerns,
as a result of family values and cultural environments that reinforce gender
The influence of social factors, such as religion and culture, on the sexual
health of young women undeniably is significant in Australia. The Department
of Immigration and Citizenship
identifies that the Muslim population in
Australia is a relatively young group. With increasing multicultural communities
in Australia, the growing prevalence of diverse cultures and religion is appar-
This development highlights an area requiring investigation into how we
can understand and encompass culture and religion in order to promote and
improve positive sexual health outcomes for young women. Recent literature
exploring the sexual health of young Vietnamese women suggests that “cultural
factors and their impact on sex and sexuality are not fully explored, particularly
among ethnically diverse groups of young people in Western nations” (p344).
In addition to cultural factors, it is suggested that religion also has a significant
influence on the sexual health knowledge, needs, and access to services of young
women in Australia.
Additionally, access to appropriate contraception is a common issue among
women, with barriers being physical, cultural, and religious.
There is, however,
a lack of literature exploring these three barriers to contraception among young
women. Considering the significant influence religion and culture can have on
young women,
and the importance of sexual health, this lack of research calls
for an investigation of any existing or potential barriers to contraception of
young Muslim women in Australia. This article attempts to fill this
knowledge gap.
Meldrum et al. 3
Theoretical Framework: Cultural Sensitivity
In this article, we situate the discussion of our research and findings within the
theoretical framework of cultural sensitivity by exploring the influence that reli-
gion and culture can have on sexual health knowledge and outcomes.
sensitivity involves acknowledging that many individuals live in culturally
diverse societies and suggests that cultural backgrounds play an important
role in the construction of our health beliefs and practices.
Reflecting a sensi-
tive approach to culture and religion through the application of conceptual
frameworks and theories is imperative to provide the most appropriate, effective
services for diverse communities.
devises the “theory of culture care: diversity and universality,”
which provides a holistic and comprehensive approach to the provision of care
that is in harmony with an individual’s or group’s cultural beliefs, practices, and
values. This theory will be used to guide understanding of Islamic beliefs, values,
and traditions that can be utilized as a way to improve the sexual health behav-
iors and health care treatment of young Muslim women in Australia.
In addition, the theory of culture care promotes the continuously evolving
nature of culture, and therefore the need for health care services to evolve their
understandings and services in a way that reflects an ability to respond to cul-
ture, religion, and diversity.
It is therefore necessary to acknowledge that
both religion and culture often evolve and generate new ideas and expectations,
which can significantly affect the sexual health of young Muslim women.
Study Design and Methods
This article is based on our qualitative research study that explored the sexual
health needs and knowledge of young Muslim women in Melbourne, Australia.
As little is known about young Muslim women and sexuality, qualitative inquiry
is essential to understanding the lived experiences of individuals within the social
world, as well as the meanings and interpretations of their experiences.
In order to generate in-depth descriptions from participants, we employed a
semi-structured interview method in this study.
Based on their choices, we
interviewed the women at a university in Melbourne, Australia. The duration
of the interviews ranged between 60 and 90 minutes. All interviews were rec-
orded and later transcribed for data analysis. The interview item guide is pre-
sented in Table 1.
Ethical clearance was obtained from the University Ethics Committee. In
presenting the findings, we used pseudonyms to protect the confidentiality of
the participants. Once ethical clearance was obtained, participant recruitment
was primarily conducted through a metropolitan university in Melbourne,
Australia, with the remaining participants being recruited through the snowball
technique. The snowball technique is commonly used in research considered
It allows researchers to recruit participants who are difficult to
4International Journal of Health Services 0(0)
reach. Initial contact was made with the key member of the Islamic Society
located within the university. We were then invited to promote the research to
women at an Islamic event. Some women were recruited then; others voiced their
interest; and the remaining women later made contact as they learned of the
The participants included in this study were women aged 18–25 years who
were living in Melbourne and identified as Muslim. The sociodemographic char-
acteristics of the participants are presented in Table 2. The number of partici-
pants was determined by saturation theory; data collection continued until little
new information could be obtained.
Saturation occurred around number ten,
but we continued interviewing to ensure that saturation did occur.
We employed thematic analysis technique to analyze the data. This technique
allows for the identification, analysis, and reporting of patterns within data to be
Data analysis began by the use of initial coding, which is used to
identify codes that are present within and among participants’ transcripts (see
Table 3). Each code was defined and, once a number of codes had emerged, axial
coding was used to connect and relate different codes to form themes.
themes are presented in the Results section.
Five main themes emerged from the data. The first three themes related to
sexual health sources of knowledge, knowledge of contraceptives and STIs,
Table 1. Interview Item Guide.
Where would you say you have obtained the majority of your sexual health knowledge?
What have you learned about sexually transmitted diseases? Tell me what you know about
How have you learned about contraception? What is your earliest memory of
How has your sexual behavior been influenced by your religion and culture?
How do you balance what you learn about sexual health from your religion and culture with
what you may have learned from Western-style education?
If you needed sexual health resources, such as contraception, would you be able to easily
access them? If so, how would you? If not, why?
Are there any health services that you may feel comfortable contacting or using if you
needed to seek sexual health assistance? Why/why not?
Apart from your GP, are there any other sexual health services that you know of?
If you had a sexual health-related concern, who would be the first person you would tell,
and why?
Do you feel that there is a need to provide more culturally sensitive education and services
for young Muslim women in Australia? If yes, what do you think would be useful in order to
improve education and services?
Meldrum et al. 5
and sexual health needs. The last two themes, access to sexual health services
and resources and sexual health, religion, and culture, related to the experiences
of the women balancing living in two different cultures with respect to their
sexual health.
Table 2. Sociodemographic Characteristics of the Participants.
Sociodemographic Characteristics Number
Age (years)
18–19 5
20–21 0
22–23 2
24–25 4
Place of birth
Australia 4
Saudi Arabia 1
Iran 1
Iraq 1
Malaysia 1
Fiji 1
Somalia 1
Pakistan 1
Length of stay in Australia
Under 12 months 1
1–5 years 1
5 + years 9
Relationship status
Single 9
In a relationship 1
Engaged 1
Married 0
Educational level
Tertiary education 8
Post-graduate education 3
Type of accommodation
Living with parents 7
Living with partner 0
Living in share house 4
6International Journal of Health Services 0(0)
Sexual Health and Sources of Knowledge
The young women obtained knowledge relating to sexual health from four
sources: parents, friends, mass media, and high school programs. Jalhai (age
22, born in Pakistan) explained how she had received sexual education from her
mother and expressed comfort when talking about sexual health together:
I would have learnt most sexual health stuff from my Mum. She taught me all
about periods and because she takes the pill, I also learnt about that too[...] I feel
comfortable speaking with my Mum about it. She is pretty relaxed and knows a lot.
The influence of friends as sources of sexual health knowledge was common
among the participants:
My friends told me about contraception. Like how to control it naturally. Like if
you don’t take the pill a few days before your period and you have sex, then you
won’t get pregnant [...] It’s kind of fun talking about it with friends. And obviously
we trust each other. (Jasmine, age 25, born in Malaysia)
The role of mass media in sexual education was mentioned by six partici-
pants, drawing on magazines and advertisements:
I used to read Dolly and I benefited from it because their responses to sex stuff are
backed with facts and knowledge. I think sometimes they are actually doctors that
reply. I like that. (Mirah, age 18, born in Saudi Arabia)
The disparity of health knowledge from high school programs was largely
attributed to whether the high school was considered secular or had an Islamic
affiliation. Women who attended Islamic high schools received basic health edu-
cation, but often lacked knowledge of anything related to sex or sexual issues:
My high school that I went to in Sydney, once the principal came into class and
ripped out all the sexual health pages from the textbooks. We weren’t taught any-
thing about sex at school. (Nylul, age 25, born in Somalia)
Table 3. Example of Data Analysis.
Because my doctor is friend with my Mum, if I knew there was no way my Mum could find out, then I
would feel more comfortable. I would like to go to a place that they have no record of me and no
record of my details. Then I would feel comfortable (Alala, Australia-born)
-Importance of confidentiality/anonymity and privacy
-Need to feel ‘comfortable’
-Fear of judgment from Mum
Meldrum et al. 7
However, three women who attended a secular high school seemed to receive
sufficient sexual health knowledge:
Those classes that we had in high school [...] The teachers went through menstru-
ation, diseases, support services, stuff like that. We learnt about contraception too,
like pills [...] My school integrated health and sex. (Lily, age 19, born in Australia)
Only one woman had been exposed to sexual health-related education at a
university level, with topics being more specific, such as human reproductive
organs and systems:
We were learning about human reproductive organs at university and my friends
were talking about sexual education they had at school. I didn’t really know what
they were talking about. But I know a lot of what they talk about now. (Trish, age
19, born in Fiji)
Our findings suggested that there were mixed experiences with knowledge
obtained from the various sources, with some participants having very little
sexual health knowledge, and others having received satisfactory levels of
sexual health knowledge from the four sources.
Knowledge of Contraceptives and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
The overall knowledge of STIs was noticeably low, with only two participants
expressing confidence in naming STIs and understanding what they are and how
they are transmitted:
I only know of HIV. I would assume it is transmitted through bodily fluids. I can’t
think of any others. I was never taught about them. (Trish, age 19, born in Fiji)
HIV, well [...] it’s not exactly an STI. It’s more of a cancer, isn’t it? Also the thing
called “crabs.” I learnt that from movies. I don’t know how you get it though.
(Aala, age 25, born in Australia)
Those who were able to name STIs largely mentioned HIV, but had very
limited knowledge about it with regard to its nature, transmission, and treat-
ment. It was common for those who had engaged in some form of sexual activity
to have more knowledge of STIs. Similarly, three women who were exposed to
sexual health education classes at high school also expressed more knowledge
of STIs:
I learnt a fair bit from school. I don’t remember a lot of it but I think I
know enough. Like I can name most of them and know that to avoid
8International Journal of Health Services 0(0)
getting them I would have to use contraception. (Nylul, age 25, born in
When asked about earliest memory of contraception, four participants
recalled a negative reaction from family members in response to their curiosity
about the advertisement or movie:
The ad was very unclear. It said to take the pill if you want a break between
children. I was curious about the ad and so I asked my aunt. She scolded me
and told me it was not something I should talk about. (Jalhai age 22, born in
It was clear that the young women in our study had little knowledge about
STIs and contraception. This reflected a lack of knowledge about sexual health
in general and closed attitudes toward sexual health within family and Muslim
Sexual Health Needs of Young Muslim Women
As most participants identified the closed attitudes toward sexual health among
Muslim cultures, they expressed the need for several improvements to be made.
Four women who mentioned concern about confidentiality expressed a need for
sexual health services to be more anonymous or at least to promote patient
confidentiality more:
Because my doctor is friends with my Mum, if I knew there was no way my Mum
could find out, then I would feel more comfortable. I would like to go to a place
that they have no record of me and no record of my details. Then I would feel
comfortable. (Aala, age 25, born in Australia)
The need for increased and improved support services for young Muslim
women was another common concern among participants. Many women articu-
lated the need for more culturally and religiously sensitive support to be made
available to young Muslim women:
There needs to be more support for Muslim women who are not too sure about sex
and Islam. It can be hard to know exactly what is right and wrong sometimes, like
where the line is. Also, I don’t know too much about sexual health, so I think it
would be good to learn this with other Muslim women. (Jasmine, age 25, born in
Two participants even acknowledged that some single Muslim women do
engage in sexual activities. They expressed the importance for the Muslim
Meldrum et al. 9
community to take this occurrence into consideration instead of imposing reli-
gious restrictions on women:
In the end, knowledge is knowledge. It might feel uncomfortable, but if it is some-
thing you have to know for your health, then it goes beyond that religious restric-
tion. (Mirah, age 18, born in Saudi Arabia)
The young women in this study did have sexual health needs. Thus, they
suggested that religious restrictions should not be imposed on young Muslim
women. Instead, they called for more culturally sensitive sexual health care for
young Muslim women.
Access to Sexual Health Services and Resources
For many participants, physically accessing sexual health services was not a
problem. Instead, they expressed more concern about confidentiality or ano-
nymity. It was common for participants to express a sense of concern or fear
about the consequences from their family and/or community if they found out
the women were seeking sexual health services:
I am hesitant about confidentiality. I would make sure that they are not going to
send any information back to my house where my parents would read it. When I
went to get tested for Chlamydia, I went to an anonymous sexual health clinic in
the city. I don’t think I would go anywhere else. (Kaleese, age 22, born in
There is another GP there [at the medical clinic] but she knows my Mum. And that
makes me nervous talking to her about those things of things. (Aala, age 22, born
in Australia)
Most women expressed their concern about having a male doctor in regard to
physical contact:
I would prefer a female GP. If it was male GP I would feel awkward, physically and
emotionally, because he might ask me if I am married and judge me because I am
not. (Pina, age 18, born in Australia)
However, for just over half of the participants, access to contraception often
proved to be a difficult task. This was attributed to the need to be secretive about
buying contraception, and the concern of judgment by family and the
10 International Journal of Health Services 0(0)
community if they found out. Some women explained that it was considered
unacceptable for Muslim women to buy contraception because of religious and
cultural influences:
Women are not meant to get contraception and things. It is supposed to be men.
I would feel very uncomfortable if I had to buy contraception, especially near
where I live. (Lily, age 19, born in Australia)
Friends were also asked to provide contraception, especially to those who felt
uncomfortable accessing it themselves:
I could also ask my non-Muslim friends [for contraception]. They wouldn’t mind if
I asked them to buy some for me. (Alysia, age 19, born in Iraq)
For those who felt comfortable accessing contraception, the most common
places to buy condoms were from the supermarket, with the pill being a pre-
scribed medication from the pharmacy:
I used to be on the pill. I just went to my doctor and got a prescription. I can also
get the condoms from the supermarket [...] I have no worries doing that. (Kaleese,
age 22, born in Australia)
It appeared that some young women did not have difficulties in accessing
health care whereas others did. Although cultural and religious norms played
a crucial role in health care access for some women, others had no difficulties
with access.
Sexual Health, Religion, and Culture
Among participants, there were mixed attitudes toward their sexual health
knowledge and varying attitudes toward their sexual health needs. These
differences were attributed to participants’ attitudes about balancing the
values and expectations of their religion and cultures. Most participants
expressed their desire to have been exposed to sexual health education in
high school, as they acknowledged the importance of preventative health
Although my religion says I do not need to know about sexual health before having
sex, I think it should be taught because girls are still going to do that stuff [...]It
could prevent a lot of mistakes from happening. (Ramsha, age 24, born in Iran)
Meldrum et al. 11
One woman mentioned that her parents would disapprove of the sexual edu-
cation she had in high school:
I wouldn’t tell my parents what I was taught at school. They wouldn’t like it. That’s
why sometimes it can be hard to combine my religion and culture in Australia.
(Alysia, age 19, born in Iraq)
However, a few women expressed a sense of appreciation at not being
exposed to sexual health education in high school:
I was never taught anything that we weren’t supposed to know. I understand why
people may find it hard to balance it all, but I don’t because I know what is right
and wrong for me. (Trish, age 19, born in Fiji)
Two participants who attended a secular school only expressed appreciation
for being exposed to sexual health education, making no mention of a lack of
cultural or religious sensitivity:
I am glad that I learnt all about sex health and stuff. I guess if my parents didn’t
want me to learn about it all, then they wouldn’t have sent me to a government
school. (Aala, age 25, born in Australia)
Our findings revealed the juxtaposition between women who appreciated
being taught about sex education and those who were not. These attitudes
arose out of different experiences, social attitudes, and religion.
Our findings identified specific areas of concern regarding sexual health know-
ledge among the young Muslim women in Australia, as well as issues limiting
their access to, or use of, sexual health services. Our article contributes to
knowledge about the lived experiences of young Muslim women in Australia
regarding sexual health and the difficulties they have balancing the influences
of religion and culture on their sexual health needs. Basing on the cultural
sensitivity theory of Leininger,
we contend that there is a need to acknow-
ledge that cultural backgrounds of young women play a crucial role in the
construction of their sexual health knowledge and need.
We have discussed
this in our findings. We argue that the knowledge gained from this study could
be used to inform the development of culturally sensitive sexual health ser-
by contributing to the understanding of the needs and barriers young
Muslim women in Australia face regarding their sexual health. We also con-
tend that the knowledge gained from our study may be applicable to young
Muslim women living elsewhere.
12 International Journal of Health Services 0(0)
The young women obtained their knowledge from various sources. Some
of these sources are generally considered reliable, such as school programs
and magazines. However, some participants relied on information from their
friends, which increases the likelihood of misinformed information being
In addition, our findings show that women who attended a
secular high school received sexual health education that could be con-
sidered comprehensive. However, those who attended an Islamic school
experienced little or no sexual health education, apart from basic health
education. Their lower levels of knowledge regarding STIs and contraception
confirmed the studies of Caruthers et al.
and Newman et al.
the connection between the commitment to traditional roles and lower
sexual health knowledge.
With limited access to information about contraception and other sexual
health issues, young Muslim women who do engage in premarital sex are thus
considered more vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies and STIs. Our findings
support existing literature that promotes the importance of sex education as a
preventative strategy, particularly in a classroom environment.
Physical access to sexual health services was not seen as an issue among
many participants; however, issues such as confidentiality and the gender of
doctors were often remarked. Although confidentiality legislation exists in
Australia, there is still some hesitation from young Muslim women, and this
was reflected in our findings. For example, one woman expressed her concern
regarding her family doctor discussing her sexual health with her mother. This
is considered a serious concern by some young Muslim women as there might
be negative consequences as a result of the influence of their religion and
Additionally, our findings support the barriers to contraception that Al
Khudairi and Yasmeen
identified in their study of Muslims living in Perth
and Newman et al.’
study of Assyrian and Karen women in Sydney. These
highlight physical access and the existence of socially unacceptable behaviors,
such as using contraception and having premarital sexual activities.
The demo-
graphics of young Muslim women appeared to be a determinant, in regard to
areas where high numbers of Muslim communities live. For example, one par-
ticipant who lives in such an area explained how the condom packets in her local
mall are hidden similar to cigarette packets. Such experiences may not only
make access to contraception difficult and uncomfortable, but it may also act
as a deterrent among young Muslim women, as feelings of guilt and shame are
endorsed. Premarital sex is often a forbidden and particularly sensitive issue
among Muslims due to Islamic doctrines and cultural traditions.
any difficulty in obtaining contraception in Australia may not only make things
more difficult, but can lead young Muslim women to engage in sexual activities
without adequate contraception. This finding highlights the struggle some
Muslim women may face in balancing the influences of Islam and Muslim and
Meldrum et al. 13
Australian cultures. Most Australian health care services would promote the use
of contraception for young women, whereas this is evidently deemed as inappro-
priate according to some of the young women in relation to their culture and/or
Sexual health clinics exist throughout Australia.
However, as our research
identifies, the low confidence levels among Muslim women and the stigma asso-
ciated with accessing these services highlights the need for an increase and
improvement in support services available for Muslim women in Australia.
Rawson and Liamputtong,
in their research with young Vietnamese people
in Melbourne, suggest that “provision of sexual health services must acknow-
ledge the specific needs of ethnically diverse young people” (p75). Based on the
cultural sensitivity theory,
we contend that this is applicable for young Muslim
women living in Australia as these young women are also bounded by certain
sociocultural restrictions.
Additionally, the participants mentioned that creating supportive groups
where Muslim women can learn more about sexual health would be beneficial.
This suggestion reflected the cultural sensitivity theory devised by Leininger,
which could be used by service providers and support organizations to improve
their understandings of the influence Islamic beliefs and Muslim culture can
have on the sexual health of young Muslim women. However, it must be
noted that confidentiality may be compromised in a group setting and fears of
participants’ personal information being exposed may also be an issue in sup-
portive groups.
Apart from the results demonstrating low levels of sexual health knowledge
among the women, the findings highlight the sensitive nature of learning such
information, particularly in regard to parental and cultural expectations.
Our findings contradict literature that suggests sex education should remain
secularized and homogenous, as the influence of religion and culture is evidently
significant and must not be ignored.
It is clear from the experiences of some
participants that exposure to contradictory teachings and cultures increases the
likelihood of confusion and misunderstanding of their own sexual health. The
addition of these findings to Halstead and Resis’s
study highlights the import-
ance of acknowledging the influence of religion and culture with regard to sexual
health education.
In addition, as Newman et al.
found in their study, our findings highlight
the connection between a lack of sexual health knowledge, unreliable sources of
knowledge, and barriers surrounding access to sexual health resources and/or
services. In order for young Muslim women to have optimal sexual health out-
comes, it is vital that they are aware of available sexual health services. We
argue, as McMichael
and Couch et al.
contend, that this could provide
empowerment to young women to deal with their sexual health needs better.
Additionally, our findings suggest that some young Muslim women feel com-
fortable and confident when accessing sexual health services. The importance of
14 International Journal of Health Services 0(0)
cultural sensitivity theory
has been confirmed by our findings, which could
lead to the promotion of culturally and religiously sensitive sexual health ser-
vices for young Muslim women in Melbourne and elsewhere.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication
of this article.
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16 International Journal of Health Services 0(0)
Author Biographies
Rebecca Meldrum is currently working in health promotion at Neami National.
She has over 5 years’ experience in health promotion, public health and com-
munity development. Rebecca holds a Bachelor of Health Sciences in Public
Health (Hons) and Bachelor of Arts in Gender, Sexuality and Diversity. She
has a keen interest in public health research and how it can inform health service
Pranee Liamputtong is a professor in the Department of Public Health, La Trobe
University. Her main interests are in the areas of sexual and reproductive health
of immigrant and refugee women, and women in Asia. She has conducted exten-
sive research in these areas both in Australia and in Asia. She has written exten-
sively in sexual and reproductive health. She is also a qualitative researcher and
has written many texts relating to qualitative methodology.
Dennis Wollersheim is a lecturer in health information management at the
Department of Public Health, La Trobe University. He has 15 years experience
as a leader in a grassroots, peer leadership social change organisation. He has his
interest in the use of technology in health and the health of refugees. He has led a
successful Wii intervention for older women in Melbourne, Australia and spear-
headed the idea of using mobile phones for peer support among refugees. He has
also written a number of papers on these issues.
Meldrum et al. 17
... MRY understandings of shame were gendered; women were consistently the subject of shame. 6,19,21,[32][33][34]41,45,46 The only descriptions of shame befalling men related to sexual orientation. 43 Throughout this review, gender is a key individual socioecological factor shaping SRHR constructions. ...
... The sentiment expressed by one Vietnamese woman about her community, 'we don't talk about sex', 47 was reiterated across studies, shared by youth from East and West African, Middle Eastern, East and South Asian backgrounds. 4,19,32,33,35,36,39,40,[48][49][50] Generally, MRY did not discuss SRH with families. 21 ...
... 43 There were few exceptions of MRY discussing SRH with mothers (none mentioned fathers). 19,32,40 Many MRY discussed SRH with friends, relying on peers for information. 4,19,21,32,36,45,48 However, occasionally, fear of judgement prevented this, especially with peers from the same background. ...
Migrant and refugee youth (MRY) in Australia face specific experiences that inform their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Migrant and refugee communities experience poor health outcomes and low service uptake. Additionally, youth are vulnerable to poor sexual health. This review examines the understandings and perspectives of MRY. A systematic review was conducted as per Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. The protocol is registered with PROSPERO: CRD42021241213. Nine databases were systematically searched. Inclusion criteria specified literature reporting on migrant and/or refugee youth perspectives and attitudes towards sexual and reproductive health; peer-reviewed qualitative, mixed-methods and/or quantitative studies or grey literature reports; records using Australian research; literature published in English between January 2000 and March 2021. Records that did not report on MRY and did not examine participant views or perspectives; were abstract-only, reviews, pamphlets, protocols, opinion pieces or letters; did not include Australian research; were published before 2000 and/or in a language other than English were excluded. Two reviewers screened titles, abstracts and full-text articles. The Mixed Method Appraisal Tool was used to assess studies' methodological quality. Thematic synthesis methods guided data extraction and analysis. Twenty-eight papers were included in the final review. Three themes were identified in MRY constructions of SRHR: (1) experiences of silence and shame; (2) understandings of and responses to SRHR risks; (3) navigation of relationships and sexual activity. Socioecological factors shaped MRY perspectives at individual, interpersonal, institutional and societal levels. Societal factors and interpersonal relationships significantly influenced decision making.
... Similar topics have also been studied in Australia among Muslim youth, specifically women (Meldrum et al., 2016). Using qualitative research methods, the study tried to identify the knowledge and experiences of participants regarding their sexual health; their interpretation of personal experiences was also discussed (Corti, 2004;Liamputtong, 2013). ...
... Furthermore, participants were asked about the balance between cultural and religious influences and sexual needs in determining their choices; it was argued by the authors that Muslim women generally lack adequate knowledge of sexual health and that this occurs primarily due to cultural factors including restricted access to information (Meldrum et al., 2016). ...
... In their study, some girls were attending state school and had access to sexual health information from their educational environment, and the school's programme was deemed to be comprehensive (ibid.). Others were attending an Islamic school, which provided no access to similar information, just general information about health; students in the second school predictably did not have much knowledge about contraception or STIs and also assumed the traditional roles of women, as defined by their culture (Caruthers et al., 2011;Meldrum et al., 2016;Newman et al., 2012). According to the study, Muslim girls who engaged in sexual relationships before marriage had higher risk of contracting STIs or having unplanned pregnancies compared to other girls from the wider population who engaged in sexual relationships before marriage, which was at least partially explicable by their comparative lack of sexual health education. ...
The aim of this study was to generate new knowledge about the perceptions of key academics and practitioners in order to inform the potential development of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) programmes within universities in Georgia. Informed by a conceptual framework that drew on the UNESCO International technical guidance on sexuality education and the Cultural Sensitivity Approach, the research explored the views of academics and practitioners in Georgia. The study was guided by three main questions: Is a university-based RSE programme perceived to be needed and, if so, why? How might it be best to develop a university-based RSE programme? How might professional, disciplinary, and cultural backgrounds influence the ways academics and practitioners engage with ideas and teaching practices related to the possibility of RSE in Georgian universities? Twelve academic and six professional/practitioner research participants were drawn from universities, hospitals, NGOs, and governmental organisations. Semi-structured interviews were undertaken and analysed by way of thematic analysis. Academics’ and practitioners’ views regarding RSE were generally positive and these professionals identified a need for university-based RSE programmes for young people, noting the importance of Georgian history, culture, and context to inform their development. It is argued that a culturally sensitive and student-centred approach should lie at the heart of RSE programme design.
... An individual's culture, including their family values, traditions and religion, affects their views on SRH [4,9]. People who migrate from a region with relatively conservative values to one that is generally more liberal are likely to have different attitudes towards SRH services from those of the host population [9][10][11]. This may lead them to significantly underuse available SRH services [6,12]. ...
... Controversy particularly applies to the comprehensive, secular type of sexuality education that is prevalent in the Western world, as it presents as acceptable certain behaviours that many Somali immigrants believe to be forbidden, such as premarital sexual relations [4,21]. Notably, Somali women have been found to have a strong desire to adhere to the principles of their culture and Islamic faith [10]. Nonetheless, they wish to use SRH services when they believe they are appropriate [10]. ...
... Notably, Somali women have been found to have a strong desire to adhere to the principles of their culture and Islamic faith [10]. Nonetheless, they wish to use SRH services when they believe they are appropriate [10]. The implementation of SRH measures may, however, be challenging owing to the conflict between Somali culture and the westernised care delivery system [10]. ...
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Objective Culture influences an individual’s perception of health needs. The influence of culture also applies to Somali individuals’ perception of their sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and uptake of related services. An understanding of female Somali adolescents’ SRH needs is vital to achieve inclusive health coverage. No research has, however, been conducted to explore the SRH needs of this population group in Oslo; hence, the aim of this qualitative study was to minimise the knowledge gap. Methods Fourteen young women aged 16–20 years were recruited using the snowball technique with purposive sampling. In-depth interviews using a semi-structured interview guide were used to collect data, and thematic analysis was applied. Results Participants perceived SRH as a very private matter and open discussion of SRH was extremely limited owing to certain Somali cultural beliefs and values. As the participants intend to practise chastity before marriage, they believed that existing SRH services were largely irrelevant and inappropriate. Where they felt the need to access SRH services, participants wished to do so in a way they considered culturally appropriate. Conclusion Somali culture markedly influences individuals’ perceptions of SRH services. It is recommended to modify existing SRH services by increasing confidentiality and anonymity in order to take into account the cultural requirements of female Somali adolescents.
... Accessing information and acquiring sexual and reproductive knowledge is challenging for many Muslim women (Alomair et al., 2020a). Sexual health information and education is believed to be encouraging promiscuity and premarital sexual relations (Bazarganipour et al., 2013;Meldrum et al., 2016). Those beliefs can influence unmarried women's perceptions of sexual and reproductive health knowledge and their perceptions of their own knowledge needs. ...
... Much of the evidence exploring Muslim women's sexual health addresses migrant populations in non-Muslim countries (Coleman & Adrienne, 2008b;Abdolsalehi-Najafi & Beckman, 2013;Meldrum et al., 2016). Yet, many similarities in sexual health experiences were observed amongst Muslim women residing in Muslim and non-Muslim countries. ...
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Introduction In Saudi Arabia, sexual and reproductive health education is not offered in any formal setting, and there is a significant lack of knowledge amongst Saudi women. This study aimed to explore barriers to Saudi women’s sexual and reproductive wellbeing. Methods The study employed qualitative methods using semi-structured interviews with women in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2019. The data were analysed using thematic analysis. Results Twenty-eight women were interviewed. Sexual and reproductive wellbeing is a complex matter affected by personal, familial, environmental, socio-cultural, religious, and institutional factors. Being unmarried is a significant barrier to accessing sexual and reproductive information and services, with ignorance signifying modesty and purity. Parental control acted as a barrier to acquiring knowledge and accessing essential healthcare services. Schools contribute to lack of awareness, with teachers omitting sexual and reproductive health-related subjects and evading answering questions. Conclusions There are multiple factors that restrict Saudi women’s access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, impacting their overall wellbeing. Research and policy efforts should be directed towards overcoming the complex barriers to Saudi women’s sexual and reproductive wellbeing. Public health initiatives are needed to improve youth, parents, and teacher’s knowledge, and improve public perceptions towards sexual and reproductive health education.
... In an Australian national survey of secondary students on their sexual health and well-being conducted in 2018, the Internet was noted as a major source of sexual health information for young people but not as trusted as health providers (Fisher et al., 2019a). As the Internet provides access to confidential information, it can be more appealing and readily available than other sources such as health practitioners (Lim et al., 2014;Meldrum et al., 2015;Rawson & Liamputtong, 2010). Research has also found that formal health websites, rather than social media websites, are key sources of health information for young people (Byron et al., 2013;Flanders et al., 2020;Patterson et al., 2019). ...
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Introduction Research suggests that embarrassment and shame are significant barriers to young people’s access to sexual health information. In this article, we analyse the relationship between emotion and young people’s engagement with online sexual health information. Methods Drawing on the work of Ahmed on the performativity of emotion and Probyn’s theorisation of shame, we analyse interviews conducted in 2020 with 37 young people in Australia on sources of sexual health information. Results Based on themes emerging from the data, our analysis considers the role of embarrassment and shame in shaping young people’s access to sexual health information, the sources they seek, and the forms of information provision they prefer. Overall, we find that shame, embarrassment, and judgement shape our participants’ access to sexual health information in four key ways: (1) by enacting suitable sources of information; (2) by propelling curiosity in different directions; (3) by constituting ‘normal’ bodies, sexuality, and sexual health; and (4) by constituting desired forms of communication. Conclusions As part of these dynamics, our participants use a range of strategies to avoid potential embarrassment or judgement when seeking sexual health information. The article concludes by exploring the implications of these practices and dynamics. Policy Implications Our analysis suggests the need for research, policy, and public health initiatives that are open to the multiple effects of emotion, including those traditionally thought of as negative, and their role in materialising encounters with sexual health information.
... The mothers also request the facilitation of their education in order to be equipped with knowledge about SRH issues and to be able to communicate in a culturally suitable way with their adolescents (79,86,20). Social and cultural customs that consider conversations on SRH issues a taboo are the main obstacle for SRH literacy (90,91,97,98). Syrian refugees in Lebanon are diverse, coming from various rural and urban regions in Syria, with different levels of education and cultural practices (20). ...
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Background The war in Syria caused the forced displacement of millions of Syrians to neighboring countries. Lebanon is the host country with the largest overall number of Syrian refugees per capita. Adolescent refugee girls experience a unique level of vulnerability during human emergencies and are at increased risk of suffering from poor sexual and reproductive health (SRH) outcomes. We conducted an exploratory qualitative study to learn about the SRH perceptions and experiences of refugee adolescent girls living in Bourj Hammoud, an urban setting in Lebanon. Methods We employed a qualitative design with eight focus group discussions (FGDs) conducted with 40 Syrian Arab and Syrian Kurdish adolescent girls between January and March 2020. Every FGD consisted of five participants aged 13 to 17 years. A semi-structured guide was used covering multiple themes: menstruation, puberty, SRH awareness, and sexual harassment. FGDs were transcribed and analyzed using thematic analysis. Findings The participants discussed adolescent girls’ health and named six elements of good health, such as healthy activities and self-protection. The majority of the FGD participants reported a lack of awareness about menstruation when they experienced it for the first time and the social stigma associated with menstruation. When defining puberty, they indicated its social link to a girl’s readiness for marriage and her need to become cautious about sexual harassment. Most FGD participants had very poor knowledge of the female reproductive system. Mothers were the most approached persons to receive information on SRH issues; however, the girls indicated a wish to receive advice from specialists in a comfortable and private atmosphere. All the girls reported that either they themselves, or an acquaintance, had experienced some type of sexual harassment. The girls rarely reported those incidents due to fear of being blamed or subjected to mobility restrictions, or forced to drop out of school. Conclusions The findings show the refugee girls need for satisfactory knowledge on SRH issues and interventions to prevent sexual and gender-based violence that take into consideration the complexity of urban settings.
... See also(Meldrum et al. 2016). ...
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Muslim youth have been under scrutiny over the last two decades from a radicalisation and countering violent extremism lens. This bias has largely carried itself to research conducted on Muslim youth in the West. This article undertakes a systematic review and analysis of literature conducted on Muslim youth in the West and in Australia in the last two decades since 11 September 2001. The body of literature in this field can be grouped under three main themes: (1) the impact of terrorism policies and discourse on Muslim youth and their disengaged identities, (2) the relationship between religion (Islam) and civic engagement of Muslim youth, and (3) Muslim youth as active citizens. An important conclusion of this review is that most of the research is dated. There have been significant changes in the development of youth as they quickly evolve and adapt. The systematic review of literature exposed a number of gaps in the research: the current literature ignores generic adolescent factors and external social factors other than Islam that also influence Muslim youth; studies that examine both online and traditional activism and volunteering space are needed to understand the dynamics of change and shift; research needs to focus on Muslim youth who were born and raised in Australia rather than focus only on migrant youth; the ways some Muslim youth use their unique sense of identity as Australian Muslims to become successful citizens engaged in positive action is not known; how Muslim youth use avenues other than their faith to express themselves in civic engagement and their commitment to society is underexplored; it is not known the degree to which bonding networks influence the identity formation and transformation of Muslim youth; there is no research done to examine how adult–youth partnership is managed in organisations that successfully integrate youth in their leadership; there is a need to include Australian Muslim youth individual accounts of their active citizenship; there is a need to understand the process of positive Muslim youth transformations as a complement to the current focus on the radicalisation process. Addressing these gaps will allow a more complete understanding of Muslim youth in the West and inform educational and social policies in a more effective manner.
... Sexual and reproductive topics are not easily discussed in most Islamic cultures and are regarded as taboo (Kingori et al. 2018). Women and young girls face difficulty discussing sexual and reproductive topics even among family members (Alomair et al. 2020a;Meldrum, Liamputtong, and Wollersheim 2016). Lack of knowledge and misinformation can adversely affect women's sexual and reproductive experiences (Golchin et al. 2012;Rahman 2018). ...
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Background There is no formal sexual and reproductive health (SRH) education currently offered in Saudi Arabia. Lack of knowledge and misconceptions are evident among Saudi women, which can lead to negative sexual and reproductive experiences. The aim of this study is to explore Saudi women's SRH knowledge, perceptions and experiences. Methods Qualitative semi-structured interviews with Saudi women were conducted. Interviews took place in a public hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Interviews were conducted in Arabic, recorded and transcribed verbatim, to allow for thematic analysis of the data. The following themes were identified: experience with menarche, deep-rooted negative views towards sex, difficulty discussing SRH topics, knowledge of sex and reproduction, generational gap, sources of SRH information and the role of the mother. Results A total of 28 women, both married and unmarried, aged 20–50 years were interviewed. A profound lack of SRH knowledge was observed among Saudi women which contributed greatly to negative experiences both in childhood and adulthood. Lack of knowledge about menstruation often caused emotional distress for young girls, and menarche was associated with bad memories and negative emotions. Lack of knowledge about sexual intercourse and the deep-rooted negative views towards sex were linked with physical and psychological issues for women. Women rarely received information from their parents or teachers and preferred the internet for their SRH information. Conclusion There is a substantial unmet need for SRH education for women in Saudi Arabia. It is our recommendation that SRH education should be tailored to meet Saudi women's unique needs, while understanding specific socio-cultural barriers to SRH education and discussions. Research and policy efforts should be directed towards regulating and producing evidence-based health information on the internet, particularly Arabic language websites.
In this chapter, I draw linkages between beliefs and knowledge about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), structural forces, and individuals’ sexual behaviour. I show that despite advancements in biomedicine and health promotion, young people hold beliefs that contradict biomedical knowledge of health and illness, particularly HIV/STIs. Indeed, beliefs about HIV/STIs are embedded in social structures, notably religion and sociosexual norms, and are inculcated in individuals when social interaction happens. I then analyse social psychology studies to examine the extent to which beliefs and/or biomedical knowledge of HIV/STIs shape sexual behaviour. The inconsistent findings in social psychology research then make the case to analyse sociological and anthropological research that shows the very social structures that produce beliefs shape young people’s sexual behaviour. Finally, I suggest that the theory of capital and social practice can be an important tool to understand why young people engage in sexual risk-taking, even being cognisant of the risk of HIV/STIs.
The sexual health of adolescents globally and in the USA remains a significant public health challenge. No evidence-based sexual health education programs exist that specifically target refugee adolescents. The purpose of this exploratory study was to describe the impact of an evidence-based sexual health education program previously demonstrated effectiveness in nonrefugee populations on refugee adolescents’ sexual health attitudes, beliefs, intentions and behaviors using minor adaptations to the curriculum. This analysis used a subsample of adolescents from refugee or immigrant backgrounds who participated in a community-based sexuality education program, Reach One Teach One-North Dakota (ROTO-ND). Previously validated scaled survey items were used to assess participants’ sexual health beliefs, self-efficacy, knowledge of sexual health resources, and behaviors. Summary statistics were calculated for sociodemographic characteristics categorized by length of time living in the USA. Bivariate unpaired comparisons demonstrated significant differences in the entire cohort on pre- to post-intervention scores on all outcome measures and scales while controlling for program attendance. Participant (n = 103) mean age was 16 and the majority were male (58%). The present study provides evidence that existing evidence-based interventions not intended to target refugee youth may contribute to meeting the unique sexual health education needs of refugee youth with minor adaptations.
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This study utilized data from the Toronto Teen Survey to examine the sexual health topics that respondents had received information about and the topics they did or did not want to learn more about. Given the diverse sample of youth participating in the study, we placed particular emphasis in the current analysis on associations between religious affiliation and having received information on eight different sexual health topics, and the desire to learn more about the same topics. Overall, there were few associations of religious affiliation with either topics youth had received information about or with topics they wanted to learn more. Protestant youth were more likely than those with no religious affiliation to have received information about sexually transmitted infections. Muslim youth were less likely to express a desire to learn more about sexual health than those identifying no religion. Gender and age differences in sexual health topics that youth had received information about and topics they wanted to learn more about were also examined. Copyright 2010 by the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada
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Existing research suggests that culture has a significant influence on the sexuality of culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Australia. However, few studies have explored the influence of both religion and culture on sexuality of young Muslim women. This paper qualitatively examines the influence of Islam, Muslim culture and Australian culture on the sexuality of young Muslim women in Melbourne, Australia. This research employed an in-depth interview technique to gather data on the lived experiences of 11 young Muslim women. The findings revealed a marked influence of religion and culture on the sexuality of young Muslim women. Additionally, this study highlights the challenges that young Muslim women face in regards to balancing Muslim culture, Australian culture and Islamic religion. This study contributes to knowledge about the lived experiences of young Muslim women in Australia regarding meanings of sexuality and the difficulties they have in balancing the influences of religion and culture. This knowledge can be useful for the provision of sexual health care that reflects a culturally and religiously sensitive approach for young Muslim women in Australia and elsewhere.
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Thematic analysis is a poorly demarcated, rarely acknowledged, yet widely used qualitative analytic method within psychology. In this paper, we argue that it offers an accessible and theoretically flexible approach to analysing qualitative data. We outline what thematic analysis is, locating it in relation to other qualitative analytic methods that search for themes or patterns, and in relation to different epistemological and ontological positions. We then provide clear guidelines to those wanting to start thematic analysis, or conduct it in a more deliberate and rigorous way, and consider potential pitfalls in conducting thematic analysis. Finally, we outline the disadvantages and advantages of thematic analysis. We conclude by advocating thematic analysis as a useful and flexible method for qualitative research in and beyond psychology.
In popular debates about reproductive and sexual rights, formal religions, especially Islam, are seen as barriers providing institutional and ideological resistance to women's realization of reproductive and social autonomy. This book challenges this simplified view of Islam. Based on original fieldwork in Eastern Indonesia, the book explores the complex factors that affect how young Indonesian women form their sexual subjectivities, discusses the cultural and historical conditions under which single Muslim women repress or express their sexuality, and examines how the cultural context, including other factors besides Islam, simultaneously influence the ways in which young single women approach courtship, and issues of sexuality and reproductive health. It demonstrates that Islam is neither alone in trying to control female sexuality, nor entirely successful in doing so.
The present study aims to explore the perceptions of Muslim adolescents in Canada regarding sex education offered to them by Canadian schools, their parents, and Islamic centers. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with nine Muslim adolescents from Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. The findings of the study reveal that despite the usefulness of sex education programs provided by Canadian schools, some of the contents of these programs were problematic for Muslim adolescents. The study also found that while Muslim adolescents predominantly preferred to have their parents as sexuality educators, parents rarely talked to them about sexuality. In addition, Islamic centres provide alternative sex education to Muslim adolescents through ‘sheikhs’, brochures, booklets and Sunday schools. The current study recommends that sex education programs in Canadian schools need to be characterized by cultural sensitivity to the diverse youth that need to obtain this information. Muslim parents can carry out their role as sexuality educators successfully if they better educate themselves on the topic and become more comfortable with discussions of sexuality. Moreover, Islamic centers in Canada should focus more on teaching about life or social values through which Muslim adolescents and their parents may obtain information about sex and sexuality within the Islamic framework.
This paper examines the extent to which the Australian education system has responded to the needs of the Muslim community in relation to curricula, staffing and organization. Australian government schools are usually described as “free, secular and compulsory” and serve the educational needs of a culturally and linguistically diverse population, but due to historical patterns of immigration, the values underpinning school curricula are Eurocentric and reflect the Judeo‐Christian tradition. For the Muslim community, seeking to have its history, culture, languages, values and beliefs reflected in curricula, staffing and school organization, this presents a considerable challenge and potentially a source of cultural conflict. Studies of Muslim children in Australia indicate that Muslim children may be educationally disadvantaged because poor English led to under‐achievement and because of cultural dissonance between parents and the school. The failure of the school to support or affirm Muslim values increases the Muslim community's sense of alienation from the mainstream education system. Australia has been quite innovative in its education policies and practices in relation to a culturally diverse population but this paper asks whether it has done enough to integrate the Muslim experience into government school curricula and to recognize Muslim needs in the selection of teachers and the organization of the school?