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“Can Talking About Sex Be Normalised In Our Country?”

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By Shivam Tripathi:

It’s almost been more than 10 years. It was during summer vacations. I had gotten bored of watching TV. So, I had decided to go outside for a bicycle ride. I lived in a Police Colony, the campus had many old offices. I was only 8; at that age children are supposed to be very curious, they want to know everything. I was no exception. I remember seeing an old police headquarter that was not in use anymore. I peeped through the holes but was unable to see anything. I was very small to look through the window. A man saw me (A retired Army officer who was under training in the police academy. He was as old as my father, I guess). I often noticed him asking my father for suggestions regarding legal issues. Just a mere acquaintance. He came near me and asked me,“Do you want to look inside?”, in a very gentle manner. I was very shy back then. I replied,“Yes, I want to look what is inside!” He held me up and I managed to look through the window. After a few seconds, I felt something hard on my back. It was him trying to push his penis and hitting my back repeatedly.

I was not mature enough to understand what was happening. Also, I was too young to decide whether it was good or bad. I requested him to leave me. I told him in an awkward manner,“I want to go home, Mom would be waiting for me”. But he denied, he held me hard and then harder. Anyhow, I escaped from there. At that time, only one thing was running inside my mind,“What was he trying to do and why?”.

I told this incident to one of my confidants. He laughed like I had told him a joke. He started making fun of me. I am not blaming him. He too was as young as I was. But I wanted him to understand my condition. That way, I could have mustered up the courage to tell this to my parents.

After 10 years I shared this incident with my hostel group when a serious discussion was going on about sexual abuse. I shared everything that had happened to me. We were 7 guys, sharing our experiences. 5 of us had experiences sexual harassments. I thought I could not speak up because I was a child. But what happened to my friend, was really ‘abrupt’, to say the least. He was 18 and had gone for a haircut and a massage. After he got his haircut, he was asked to go into the massage cabin, the barber asked him to lift his T-shirt and then knowingly slipped his hand inside my friend’s trousers and touched his private parts.

There are many incidents of child sexual abuse in India. It can happen at school, at work place, at home, anywhere. The main problem behind this is lack of education. Sex education should be there as a mandatory subject in school. I know, most of the guardians do not want sex education as they think it is ‘unethical’ to teach ‘immature minds’ about sex.

When I was young, I had asked my father what rape was. Instead of describing me the clear and exact meaning of ‘rape’, he coaxed around. Generally, parents hesitate to talk about sex to their children. I think they are unaware of children’s umpteen level of curiosity regarding sex. But what the children have is half baked knowledge. Proper vigilance from the parents’ side can stop the subconscious victimisation of children. Parents should give their children proper and sufficient time to interact and understand each other.

How can sex education bring changes to the society? Why do parents think that sex education is ‘unethical’ ? When I asked this question to my father recently, he told me.“You were too young (not adult) to know about sex and all.” Many children are inquisitive about where babies come from? The answers they get are really amusing. They are told, “God sent you to your mother’s womb”, or similar things. Parents can see how curious their children are but they hesitate to tell them the reality.

When children grow up together in a family, they often ask why their sex organs (they use some other word to explain sex-organ, something that their parents teach them to avoid talking about ‘sex’) look different. And as usual, parents do not have any straight answer to that. They think that their children are too young to be taught about these things.

I agree. It is true. I am not saying that a newborn child should know these things. But a child, who is growing up, must be told or taught about these things at a certain age. And as the child gets matured day by day, the basic information needs to be changed into advanced information. In every different stage of an individual’s life, the individual learns different aspects of sex. Learning about sex or any kind of bodily – physical and mental pleasure is a long process, and not something that you can learn in a day. So, it should happen accordingly and gradually. If children are not learning sex education at school, it is their parents’ duty to teach them the basic information (and later, advanced information too) about sex.

According to Sigmund Freud, anything that gives you pleasure is sex, even when we see a year old baby satisfyingly sucking or biting. To Freud, this behaviour suggested that the mouth is the primary site of a kind of sexual pleasure. According to Freudian theory, at about age 3, children begin to develop sexual arousal towards their parents. A male child develops feelings towards his mother and a female child towards her father. But both the situations are different. Girls develop sexual feelings toward their fathers and begin to experience penis envy. That means that they wish they had the anatomical part that is missing in them. Children too need sexual pleasure but their means of satisfying themselves are different.

Even when we talk about breastfeeding, our society thinks that it is not normal. So, what happens? A mother has to go into a toilet to feed her child. If your friend invites you for lunch at a public toilet, would you like that? Of course not. Then why should a child face such a problem?

Most of us may have heard about the Brazilian Minister Manuela D’Avila who breastfed her baby while putting forth her stand in National Assembly, Brazil’s Parliament. Why does our society not understand that these things are normal?

Can talking about sex be normalised in our country? Sexual urges may arise and it is natural. Natural processes cannot be controlled and locked up. Teaching about sex does not mean that there is a rise or a diminution of sex-drive in an individual. Children do watch porn, they do masturbate and it does not mean that their sexual urges are becoming less or more. It does not effect at all, it is normal. And if sex education is not given, it would be a problem for all of us. We have to change our mentality. Because sex education is important for children of different ages and it creates a better and a healthy world. Many organisations like Tarshi, who have been working on sexual issues, published books like The Red Book and The Blue Book too, for the age of 10-14 and 15+ respectively. These books can be really helpful for children of these ages. It is really time that we inculcate sex education, necessarily to break certain social taboos.

If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at dial1098@childlineindia.org.in. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.

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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 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.

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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
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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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