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This Village In Pakistan Has Initiated Sex Education For Girls And The World Can Learn A Lot From Them

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By Uzair Belgami:

In the village of Johi in the Sindh province of Pakistan, teachers have started Sex Education classes for their girl students (yes, you read that right!). There are eight schools in the locality run by the Village Shadabad Organisation. Their sex education lessons – starting at age eight — “cover changes in their bodies, what their rights are and how to protect themselves.” What is remarkable about the initiative (apart from the fact that the local populace or the teachers haven’t been harassed by religious fundamentalists, yet) is that reportedly these classes are being given support by most of the local families of the area (1). sex education in pak

“Sex” is a massive taboo in our ‘conservative’ South Asian societies. I don’t agree with the all-too-easy to arrive at paradigm, that to be ‘conservative’ is a ‘bad’ thing or a sign of some form of ‘oppression’, while more ‘liberal’ societies or peoples are necessarily more ‘progressive’. Of course the definitions of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are all too closely associated with and assigned by ‘power’, ‘time’ and the ‘dominant discourse’, which in themselves may be oppressive or prejudiced. Hence, to be labelled or perceived as ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ is not something that can be taken at face-value and a given. For example, the definition and image of a ‘conservative’ person in Europe, in the Indian Sub-continent and in China may be very different; and hence judging or labelling a particular society or people, is a very problematic and inaccurate process.

The above comments were an attempt to unshackle the discussion of Sex Education’ from a discussion purely based on ‘values’, and the all-too-common trend of blatantly associating one with a different position on the matter as either a ‘backward’/’narrow-minded’ or a ‘progressive’/’broad-minded’ person(s).

However, I would rather like to approach the issue from a perspective of ‘necessity’ based on our present time and space. The world today is facing an unprecedented battle with HIV-AIDS. (2) In 2011, there were 34 million people suffering from AIDS in the world, 50% of whom were women. This includes 4 million people in South Asia – 0.3 % of the population. North America, which many people accuse of being consumed with sexual anarchy, promiscuity and ‘shamelessness in general’ (strengthened by the fact that most schools have sex education there, of course!) had 1.4 million people, which is 0.6%. Europe has 0.2% of the population suffering from AIDS. It is plainly visible that we the residents of South Asia in specific have a huge problem and need to engage with this epidemic as best as possible. It is also quite plain to see that blatantly associating ‘sex education’ with rise of sexual promiscuity and AIDS is a prejudiced and inaccurate claim. AIDS is only one sexually transmitted disease, there are more too! I have also, for want of space, not even begun to mention the health-related problems and diseases women and girls are especially prone to due to lack of hygiene and education with regards to menstruation. Whether it is a wise and necessary decision to educate students who have achieved puberty and sexual competence on how to prevent and protect themselves, is a question which deserves due attention.

There is also a growing wave, or rather a tsunami, of pornography among the world today — propelled in fact, by growing access to technology. Now, whether this too is an epidemic or a welcome sign of freedom, is a debate for another place — however the fact is, pornography and its associated material have changed and are changing the way we imagine and perceive sexuality and the opposite sex. (3) Pornographic material is also increasingly accessible to children, with the prevalence of technology and growing ease of access. I am of the strong opinion that many/most forms of pornography distort the imagination we have of the opposite sex and of our own sexuality. (3) Now whether we want adults, and especially impressionable children, to let their understandings and learnings of sexuality and sex to be imbibed from such mediums and platforms is a serious question. Whether ‘sex education’ could help to educate and orient minds in a healthier and accurate way, to matters and subjects which they in most probability would be exposed to through other less healthy channels, is a very valid matter for consideration.

In response to the classes in the Pakistani village, the reaction of Mirza Kashif Ali, the Head of All-Pakistan Private Schools Federation (and also the common response of many others) – wherein he asks why children are being taught about something that they aren’t “supposed to do” (1) seems very shallow to me. By his logic, we should delete wars from school history textbooks, nuclear fission studies from school physics textbooks and the study of reproduction from biology textbooks!

Finally, having been a recipient of ‘sex education’ myself, I can state that although most of the classes were met with sniggers and snide comments by the students in general, they did not reveal anything about ‘sex’ which students in a middle class urban school did not know anyway — rather were quite informative and helpful about matters such as AIDS and puberty. Of course, how such classes must be framed sensitively and appropriated for age and specific cultures, is a very important aspect in my opinion. In countries like India and Pakistan, where talking about ‘sex’ is still considered by many as heresy and open discussions on such topics within families non-existent — educating students on the subjects in an appropriate and sensitive manner, plays a large role in promoting health; physically, emotionally and psychologically. In any case, such classes need to be removed from the lens of being seen as ‘Western’, ‘immoral’ or ‘liberal’. Initiatives like the one in the Pakistani village, need to be considered seriously and not just condemned (or supported) blindly. After all, even though many may consider themselves to be ‘moral’ by claiming to be anti-Western-values or anti-liberal or anti-sex-education (though the terms are not at all synonymous!) – we are the largest population in the world, sex must have been involved somewhere along the way, it’s time we talked about it!

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  1. Shoaib Mohammed

    A well written and balanced article… It is time now for Indians, especially the youth to be more open and discuss issues relating to sex, sexuality, gender, etc,.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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