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The Govt. Ban On Condom Ads: Wobbling Between Conservatism And Hypocrisy

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We live in a country which has an archaic social infrastructure. Rather than pushing for more significant dialogues about sex and sexual violence in public discourse, we have unfortunately witnessed quite a bit of resistance from the policymakers. The political and social will to snap out of the Victorian rigidity from our system is conspicuous by its absence.

A recent ban on condom ads on television channels from 6 am to 10 pm, proves that our social system is still stuck in the 19th-century colonial mores on sex and sexuality, which have remained a powerful force in education, policy, and social relations. Such standards have even been internalised by those sitting in government departments.

I completely fail to understand why it is so blasphemous to talk about sex and sexuality in the country where the religious scriptures have been replete with sexual content. Let us see some examples:

A verse from Yajur Veda 19.88 says, ‘‘Just as a wife, the recipient of semen, at the time of cohabitation keeps her head opposite to the head of the husband, and her face opposite to that of his, so should both husband and wife perform together their domestic duties. A husband is a protector like a physician. He lives happily like a child, and with tranquillity produces progeny with penis keen with ardour.”

Rig Veda 10.110.5 says, “Spacious doors remain wide open like beautiful wives for their husbands. O divine doors, great and all-impellers, be easy of access to the gods.”

Sexually explicit images and sculptures that showed various sex positions and sexual acts, carved on the walls of ancient temples were meant for sex education. Since a temple was visited by a large part of the society, the temple pillars, walls and towers were an ideal place for these images to spread awareness.

In Brihadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads, we do not find any negativity being associated with sexual acts. And now we find ourselves uncomfortable when condoms are marketed on television!

If our government agencies feel too awkward, find the themes of the commercials ‘vulgar’ or wish to portray themselves as the saviours of Indian culture, they are free to go and regulate the content.

Shouldn’t young teenagers know what condoms are and why they are used? Are they not taught about the process of reproduction in schools? In the biology NCERT books, the male and female reproductive anatomy, as well as physiology, is explained. The same chapter has a special paragraph about test tube babies and what IVF or in vitro fertilization means and how it is done. Chapter 8, in class X, discusses in detail the mechanisms by which organisms reproduce and what contraception is along with describing various methods of contraception.

According to ancient religious books, formal sex education was quite common in Gurukul where the royal children were sent to study. When they were passing out, they were taught about ‘Grahsth-Ashram’ so that they could enjoy a fulfilling and a happy married life. But now the sex education course taught in schools has been renamed! We now call it the ‘Adolescence Education Programme’ because we are too ‘shy’ to hear or utter the word sex.

The silence around sexuality and the lack of sex education compel young people to gather information about their bodies from misinformed sources such as peers, the media, internet and pornography and often indulge in unguided explorations of the sexual act. Present day teens are smartphone users who have access to everything that can satisfy their curiosity.

For our pseudo moralists, sex is negative, contaminating and corrupting. In 2014, our then Union minister of Health recommended less talk about condoms, ban on sex education and more values with yoga in school. Showing condoms is blasphemous, while childbirth is not. And now the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has asked TV channels to not air advertisements selling and promoting condoms because these are “indecent especially for children” and can create “unhealthy practices” among them. Are sexually transmitted infections healthy? Are under-aged brides with unplanned pregnancies in a patriarchal society where men hate to use condoms, healthy? Is watching acts of violence on news channels or burning a man alive on camera healthy for the young minds?

I fail to comprehend if these lawmakers are ignorant, innocent or just simpleton.

The government itself provides free condoms under its community-based AIDS prevention programme.

Condoms are effective against STIs, don’t cost much and are convenient. They help other methods of birth control work even better, have no side effects and above all, they are sexy – as protection is important, but so is the pleasure. The use of a condom can effectively reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and syphilis, and it offers some protection against genital warts and herpes.

Knowledge of safe sex can prevent people from making bad decisions that can impact their health and their futures. It is high time that we all stand together to reclaim our sexual health and sexual gratification breaking the silence around sex. Come on, let us stop wobbling between conservatism and hypocrisy! Let us stop promoting ‘normative’ sexuality!

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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)’.

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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.”

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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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