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In This Sex-Ed Class, Let’s Turn The Page From ABCD To LGBT

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By Karthik Shankar:

I remember my first sex education class in school when I was thirteen. After an initial round of snickering, there was hushed silence as all of us learned about our bodies and sexual desires. It also led to a never ending flurry of questions that ranged from the mundane to the introspective. At an age where most of us felt like aliens in our own skin, that class reassured us that going through puberty was a normal teenage ritual.

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The term sex education already raises a lot of eyebrows in our deeply conservative society. In a culture where sexual repression is the norm, fringe conservative groups get riled up by its very mention and religious leaders launch diatribes against Western influence and the deterioration of Indian culture.

Given that sex education is sporadic in our schools, it would seem crazy to even make the next argument; that we need to incorporate LGBT education into our curriculum and sex education is the first logical step. Incorporating LGBT issues into sex education can have multiple beneficial effects. It’s been found to reduce homophobic bullying and promotes school safety.

In the past year, LGBT issues have actually been part of the national water cooler conversation. In December 2013, the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Delhi High Court judgement that turned down the obsolete Article 377 that criminalises homosexual activity. The judgement unleashed a flurry of outrage and for once put India in the thick of the worldwide conversation on gay rights. April 2014 thankfully saw a more progressive judgement from the Supreme Court when its ruling granted legal recognition to the third gender. Transgenders face numerous barriers in getting access to and staying within the education system itself. Talking about transgenders in education is the foundation of a collective support system that starts from school and then moves all the way to college and government jobs in the form of reservation quotas.

Imagine a school that actually dares to put LGBT issues on the table in its sex education classes. Wouldn’t it reduce common assumptions and stereotypes about LGBT people? Children’s world views and beliefs are extremely malleable. It’s the reason why education has always been an ideological tug of war. In an environment where such issues are discussed openly, it promotes the safety and personal wellbeing of such children. Only in sex education can various issues such as body dysphoria or Sapphic love be addressed. Given that we live in a heteronormative society, it’s important that children are taught that such sexual or gender identities are natural and not perversions.

Recognising LGBT people without ‘othering’ them will also allow the education system to recognise the myriad fields in which they have deeply contributed. How can a discussion of Vikram Seth’s contribution to Indian English literature be complete without analysing the LGBT themes in his work? Look at the kind of dreck children in Indian society are currently exposed to. You have Dostana and Bol Bachchan, both practically minstrel shows in terms of how they portray homosexual men. For transgenders, there’s Sangharsh, where our typical cisgender hero played by Akshay Kumar saves a kid from a murderous transgender who keeps kidnapping children for ritual sacrifices.

For the vocal culture activists, LGBT issues being a part of the curricula is not the death knell for Indian society. It is ironic that most of those who are virulently opposed to such reforms are from Hindutva groups, given that ancient Hinduism took a very liberal stance regarding some of these issues. Ancient Hindu scriptures celebrate androgyny and people who belong to the third gender. In fact, the God Ayyappa was said to have been born after a union between Vishnu and Shiva after the former took on a female form to seduce the latter.

Including LGBT topics in school can have a salubrious economic effect as well. A recent research paper by the World Bank said that LGBT discrimination costs India billions of dollars. In 2012 alone, that economic loss amounted to anywhere between Rs 11,200 crores and 170,000 crores. There’s a clear economic upside to investing in equality.

Of course all this is expecting too much in a country where religious leaders like Baba Ramdev espouse the value of yoga as a substitute for sex education and even the former Union Minister for Health, Harsh Vardhan, takes a retrograde view saying that sex education should be banned. Still, for those who choose to believe in the value of inclusivity, history is on their side.

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You must be to comment.
  1. Babar

    When a man and a woman get married, they provide a balance to their families and complete each other. This is impossible with homosexual ‘relationships’, which are immoral, perverted, and unnatural. Of course, self-righteous supporters of homosexuality will go around hurling abuses at whoever doesn’t agree with them.

    Homosexuals cannot procreate, so they can never have their own children. If they adopt, their children will either have two daddies or two mommies. Lesbians can never satisfy their sexual desire by rubbing into each others vagina while gays indulge in anal sex – the anus is not designed for penile penetration. I have nothing against homosexuals, but it is natural to question the unnatural. In movies, blogs, and the media, homosexuality is being ‘normalised’ so that we get used to abnormality, and now the self-righteous bearers of homosexuality want this perversion to be introduced into schools.

    “Heterosexual intercourse is the pure, formalized expression of contempt for women’s bodies.” – Andrea Dworkin

    “Feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice.” – Ti-Grace Atkinson

    I became a lesbian because of women, because women are beautiful, strong, and compassionate – Rita Mae Brown

    “When a woman reaches orgasm with a man she is only collaborating with the patriarchal system, eroticizing her own oppression.” – Sheila Jeffrys

    “All sex, even consensual sex between a married couple, is an act of violence perpetrated against a woman.” – Catherine MacKinnon

    1. Tarun Bhalla

      “Lesbians can never satisfy their sexual desire by rubbing into each others vagina…” Haha, what? Have you even asked a lesbian about this before making your own assumptions?

      I don’t get it. If you have, as you claim, nothing against homosexuals, why comment on this article?

    2. Shreya

      Who are you to question anyone’s orientation or love? God? No you aren’t, so kindly let people live and love however they want to when it is in no way affecting your life!

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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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