Over the last few months, we have seen an unprecedented surge in debate and discussion around the issues of gender and sexuality, power and patriarchy. The deep slumber that our collective consciousness had fallen into was finally shaken off by a brutal rape and murder of a young woman in the heart of the country’s capital in December of last year. The protests in the wake of the incident refocused our attention to the very important yet overlooked aspect of sexuality education. Gender sensitization and awareness programmes are suddenly in vogue across schools and colleges as part of desperate, well-meaning campaigns to address violence against women. Yet what is missing is a positive, rights based sexuality education curriculum in schools. Why do we think this can go a really long way in addressing concerns around gender based violence? Because…
Sexuality is recognised as a central aspect to being human and there is an increasing global appreciation of sexual rights as human rights. Adolescence as a developmental stage is associated with forming a sense of identity and exploring relationships including sexual relationships. Therefore, it is crucial to equip adolescents and young people with information and knowledge on sexual and reproductive health issues. There have been efforts across the country over the last two decades to introduce sexuality education within school curricula. However, the political and socio-cultural complexities that exist in a society as diverse as India have made it very difficult to acknowledge that sexual activity is common among young people and to implement a comprehensive sexuality education programme, that is, a curriculum which recognizes that young people have the right to information and to develop the agency to make their own decisions.
The Adolescent Education Programme first introduced in 2005, received a severe backlash from many state governments, which is indeed baffling when one considers the key themes that the curriculum was addressing — adolescent reproductive and sexual health, mental health, and substance abuse, life skills and HIV. Trends like these are potentially damaging to a society that is fighting to overturn the dominant social setup that cements hierarchies and sets the tone for the way our society and polity work. We need to observe with scepticism and scrutiny, initiatives that curtail our freedom to make our choices and have control over our own bodies and desires, the social conventions that restrict us within tight spaces marked morally acceptable and unacceptable and above all, how these collaborate to create and sustain a systemic oppressive structure that threatens the rights of gender and sexual minorities.
TARSHI’sÂ Open Letter on Sexuality Education is a call to action to affirm young people’s right to sexual and reproductive information and health, to what is rightfully ours – Our Bodies, Our Desires, Our Sexualities — and above all, Our Lives. Sign here to show your support for this cause!