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Accept That Your Kids Will Soon Learn About Sex; Isn’t It Better If It Comes From You First?

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I grew up in New Delhi, the fast-town of Urban India. My parents are from Andhra Pradesh and we stayed in Delhi for 17 years. I studied among equally diverse peers from the naval fraternity and this is where I thought I learnt everything. But I was wrong.

Till the age of 14 I didn’t know about the existence of that particular three letter word. By 16, I’d both heard about and said it out loud a couple of times, only to hear my friends shush me up. I had also read about the reproductive parts in my Biology textbook after skipping school on the day that particular lesson was being taught. I was too embarrassed to sit in a class full of boys while my teacher lectured in a strictly aversive tone about our ‘girl parts’ and ‘boy parts’. I was 18 by the time I knew what sex really is, how it happens and between whom. This, I learnt from an article in the newspaper, not from my friends, not from my teachers, and definitely not from my parents.

 

I still remember my mother, asking me to turn away with one sharp tone every time a kiss scene played on the TV, my dad getting fidgety and my little brother and I being horrified with embarrassment. How many times has that happened to you? Have you ever been told not to use the ‘S’ word? Have you ever heard anyone tell you what sex is really about? I haven’t, and to my misfortune, I learnt from newspapers, books and porn.

Sex happens all around us, you and I were born because of sex, and yet, in India, we treat it like it’s a taboo. Everyone I know has tip-toed around sex all my life. They call it sex education, but really, sex is smeared with coal, sat on a donkey and paraded around like a criminal who should not be unleashed on our world. Imagine if your parents sat you down and told you sex happens between two people and it is completely natural. I would bury my face in my backside out of embarrassment, but I know that I would thank them someday.

I used to think that making out could make babies. Only later did I realize the monumental extent of my lack of knowledge. Sex should be talked about more in India. Not just by the media, or on Facebook. Parents need to accept that the country is on a modernization spree and sooner or later, their kid will learn about sex; isn’t it better it came from them first? If you reprimand your kids to act responsibly, give them all the information they need to make those responsible decisions. Only when parents explain what sex really is will a child know the repercussions of engaging in it. It’s a common trend among youngsters to learn about sex from porn, which is a devastating source of knowledge. Porn is around for pleasure, not for facts about sex and definitely not to learn values about the important emotion that it is. Yes, you heard me right, sex is an emotion shared by two people, which could go horribly wrong if not understood properly.

We are thriving in a decade of sexual awakening, when more and more books are being written about people’s sexuality, sexual experimentation is rife in India and people are becoming more open about underage sex and multiple sexual partners. We are transforming into a post-patriarchal society where women are stepping into the limelight and taking life by the horns, and men are respecting that. At this juncture, it is important for us as a collectivistic culture to dump the negativistic attitudes we hold about sexual intercourse. If we do this, then eventually our children will too. Let us ensure that we are giving our children all the information they need to be well-rounded individuals.

I have a dream, that one day; textbook printers will be printing a book on sex education and awareness, the day when awareness of sex becomes formal in India. When children don’t have to rely on ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Mills & Boons’ to learn about the act of intimacy between two individuals. However sex education does not necessarily mean ‘talk about sex’. Sex education refers to holistic view of all the aspects of sexual intercourse, both positive and negative. Parents have the responsibility of teaching their children about important matters like the various body parts, good touch and bad touch, which areas are private and should not be touched, how to respond to a bad touch, to always tell when someone is misbehaving and then finally that no one can force anyone to do anything they don’t want to. Children need to be sensitized from a young age so that they themselves will be vigilant and build an awareness of those around them.

Sex is not just about the act itself; it involves two people and their acceptance to share a moment so personal and special that they are most vulnerable. I understood this only after I experienced it for myself, but it shouldn’t have to be that way. We need to empower those around us to accept and treat sex like doing our morning duty and brushing our teeth. We are wired that way, can we help it? Changing a pattern is difficult but possible; changing a mindset is what has taken our country centuries. Let’s take it one home at a time. Why don’t you start with yours?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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