By Shruti Negi:
Till about a year ago, like many of the people around me, I used to think that sex education only revolved around teaching people about sex and the reproductive system. But because of the Know Your Body, Know Your Rights (KYBKYR) programme, I learned that it was so much more than that. I liked the programme’s agenda: providing Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) to young people. CSE, I found, addressed issues that I had never had a chance to speak about before. It not only spoke about sex and body anatomy, but also covered gender, puberty, relationships, consent, power, violence, patriarchy, STIs, mental health, etc. It looked at how these factors intersected to determine our life experiences.
The KYBKYR sessions were not your run-of-the-mill classroom sessions. They were so much fun that I would skip my coaching classes to attend them. We would do a lot of activities, play games, attend guest lectures and eat free food! At the same time, we were questioning many of the fundamental ideas we held about gender and sexuality, and were learning a lot about how these issues affected us in every aspect of our life.
Once I actually began running CSE sessions with adolescents in Delhi – it was totally nerve-racking for me. How could I – a lifelong introvert – be the centre of attention in a room full of young people, waiting to learn about issues that they had been told were taboos throughout their life?
Despite my fears, surprisingly, my first session went rather well! Since then, conducting these sessions has been something I look forward to doing. It gives me the chance to interact with young people from different walks of life, while opening up a safe space to talk about our experiences. Gaining their confidence and developing a bond with them has been one of my favourite things about being a part of KYBKYR.
Along with this, I also learned about how important it is for young people to have access to CSE. Adolescence, as we all know, is a very crucial stage in a person’s life. It is also perhaps the most misunderstood and ignored age-group. Young people undergo so many physical, mental and emotional changes at this age, and are often very curious and confused about their bodies. Often, there are few reliable sources of information and guidance to help them through this confusion, making them dependent on sources that are not only unreliable but also harmful.
Bollywood is a great example of this. In one of my sessions a participant told me about a friend of hers who was the target of persistent harassment from a boy. He would call her names, stalk her, and sing songs on the streets. When she tried to threaten him, he only became more persistent and said that he wasn’t afraid of anyone. After weeks of harassment the girl finally gave in because Bollywood had taught her that in cases like these, the guy truly loves the girl!
Messed up, right? If the boy and the girl in the story had access to CSE, they would both know that what he was doing wasn’t romantic, but was actually a form of abuse.
Given that the primary image of romance, abuse, beauty standards and gender roles prevalent within society, and those perpetuated by the media, are inherently problematic, access to CSE is extremely important. Along with this, young people’s access to information and services around their sexual health is heavily policed to a point where they are unable to recognise important health issues – for instance, whether they are suffering from an STI (or not). Often, they don’t even have spaces where they can speak about issues related to their bodies or their sexuality without the fear of judgement.
It is vital for young people to have access to safe spaces where they can seek answers to all their questions, become aware of their rights, learn to respect other people’s experiences and diversity – and most importantly, become comfortable in their own skin. In this context, providing young people with access to CSE is non-negotiable.
The author is a volunteer peer educator under the YP Foundation’s Know Your Body Know Your Rights (KYBKYR) programme. Within this programme, she works with young people from various walks of life to provide them with accurate and unbiased information about their sexual and reproductive health rights.
Volunteer Applications for the KYBKYR Program are currently open! Apply here: https://goo.gl/forms/m1pJ62I4GLEt6rzM2.