How Do We Talk To Children About Sexual Harassment And Rape?

I still remember the first time I asked my mother the meaning of the word “rape.”

It was during a lazy afternoon, and my 12-year-old self was curious about this new word I kept hearing in the news: “balatkar”. And if that wasn’t enough, I’d also seen the word “rape” repeatedly flashed in the headlines, so naturally, I needed to know what it meant.

Back then 12-year-olds didn’t have cell phones (or at least I didn’t), so ‘Googling it’ meant waiting for your computer to turn on, then waiting for your modem to connect to the internet, and occasionally, trying to figure out why the internet wasn’t working despite your computer stubbornly claiming that it was, in fact, connected.

Till date I can recall her exact reaction in my mind very clearly. As soon as I uttered the word “rape” from my mouth, my mother completely froze and stopped what she was doing. You see, she was the kind of parent who’d hastily change the channel if I was in the room and anything even remotely sexual was on the screen, or would ask me to leave the room when she was watching her English TV dramas, fearing I might be exposed to “anaap-shanaap chezein”. So then how was she supposed to explain to her naïve, young daughter what rape was?

I don’t remember what her answer to my question was, but I’m pretty sure she brushed it off. However, it didn’t take me long to figure out the meaning of said word, since my curiosity won, and I decided that my need to know  surpassed the mild annoyance I’d have to face while waiting for my internet connection to work. And hence, that day I discovered what the words “sex” and “rape” meant, and what the underlying difference between both those terms was.

This was back in 2008. Today, things are much different. Kids have much more exposure to the outside world, due to ease of access to cell phones and social media. Furthermore, with extensive media coverage on rape cases within a country where 106 rapes occur almost daily, and where crimes against minors have soared 500 per cent over the past 10 years, it’s hard to keep younger kids in the dark about sexual violence and harassment.

The need to educate our young ones about sexual harassment arose once more quite recently when the nation was left shell shocked after discovering one of the most barbaric rape cases in the country in recent years, possibly worse than the 2016 Nirbhaya rape case. An eight year old girl, Asifa Bano, was abducted, raped and murdered by six men in Rasana village near the Kathua district in Jammu and Kashmir. After learning about such horrific cases, how does one equip a child to protect themselves? How does one ensure that a child does not fall prey to such unspeakable acts of barbarism?

Many would argue that there should be no need for children to defend themselves, and that the government should implement laws harsh enough to deal with the perpetrators of such horrendous crimes. And while that would be the ideal solution, India’s rape crisis shows no signs of abating any time soon.

This brings us back to the question: How do we talk to children about sexual harassment and rape?

The first step is to have conversations with them about these topics, and use the news as a means to educate, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. And under no circumstance should you brush off their questions regarding the same, because if they don’t learn it from you, they will from somewhere else (much like I did from the internet), and there’s no saying as to what kind of information they might obtain from third party sources. Other than that, we must educate them about their bodies, clearly highlighting the difference between ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’, and start stressing the importance of consent, and the word ‘no.’ Most importantly, we must teach them to never feel ashamed, and assure them that they’d never get in trouble for speaking out against any harassment they might have experienced.

Parents and schools alike should also invest time and give importance to sex education, and have conversations with children about respecting the other gender. Teaching them how to handle rejection and not get caught up with emotions also plays a huge factor, since adolescence can be a tricky period for many. Parents should also talk to their children about their mental health, and keep a check on their online activities, to ensure they’re in a safe and healthy environment. It’s scary to think about how dangerous the outside world is, not only for us, but for our children as well. But by implementing these small, but crucial steps, we might be able to curb such incidents, even by a small margin. Sexual predators are unfortunately prevalent almost everywhere today, and hence, we must be able to educate our kids about the same, not letting our personal discomfort or opinions about such exposure get in the way.

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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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