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The Right Education About Sex Would Have Saved Me Many Mistakes

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PFIEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #YoungSambandh, a campaign by Population Foundation of India and Youth Ki Awaaz to find solutions to improving access and awareness of sexual and reproductive health and rights among young people. Have a story to share? Share it with your thoughts and suggestions here.

By Anonymous:

Three months into the first ever biology class of my young life, my class test result came back with a jolly ol’ 8/10 looking smugly up at me. I should’ve been pretty smug too. But I broke into a cold sweat. Why oh why had I scored so well on a test about Sexual Reproduction?

Most of my classmates had done badly—unsurprising, since the teacher had only skimmed through the subject, So what did that make me? An average student who got lucky? Or a pervert who thought about sex so much that I aced a test without any effort?

It would have been pointless, I remember thinking, to explain to my tight-lipped teacher and my puberty-stricken classmates that bookshelves at home had books on the human body. It would be pointless to say that my mother and I had open discussions about everything under the sun, including sex, genetics, childbirth, protection and more. How could I explain knowing all these “adult” things as a girl of 12? What other kind of ‘depraved’ knowledge did I have? Was it enough to send me to the counselor? The principal? To be expelled?

Over a decade later, I’ve realised just how harmful this attitude towards sex is, particularly from an education point of view. If school is supposed to prepare you for the world outside, scrimping on such an important aspect of human life – sexual development, desire, safety, and more – leaves young people like sitting ducks. If you wouldn’t send a kid to buy sabzis without knowing basic arithmetic, how on earth can you expect a person of any age to engage in sex without knowing concepts like consent and contraception and getting tested for STDs?

Terming it ‘age inappropriate’ is just plain lazy. Kids’ bodies start changing when they’re as young as nine. Students in Class VIII are struggling with period cramps, sexual attraction, involuntary erections, sore breasts, bad genital hygiene—and they deserve answers immediately! Passing the buck to colleges and universities is no good either, because it’s just as hush-hush.

About a year after I had shed the weight of my excellent biology marks, the inevitable happened. I had so many questions. Why did my nipples stick out painfully in the cold? Why were tampons refusing to go in? Why was I not attracted to boys? What was homosexuality? What do I do with period-stained panties? Was kissing really as messy as it looked? And what the hell was this ‘PCOD‘ some of the girls were complaining about?

As a 25-year-old with the answers to all these questions, I’m angry about having to wait so long, and about how the right education could have saved me from so many mistakes (and underwear; man I threw away so many after they got stained!). I would have not hurt myself forcing in a tampon. I would have come out of the closet sooner and prouder. I would have been able to empathise with and help classmates dealing with PCOD. I would have gotten on my friend’s case about using protection, instead of watching her swallow pill after pill, thinking that I didn’t know enough to say anything. But wishful thinking is all you’re left with when schools and parents don’t tell you what you need to know.

Without proper sex education at the school level, the risks are too high. 2.1 million Indians living with HIV/AIDS, because shame and stigma and exorbitant feeds forbade them from accessing testing services, non-judgemental doctors, antiretroviral therapy. 16 million teen pregnancies in India, each with complications like hemhorraging, hypertension, and anaemia. And India’s idea of consent (even in legal terms) is so horribly skewed that marital rape is not a crime.

The Delhi Statistical Handbook found that, in 2015, there were over 40 lakh school students in the capital alone. The figure must have risen by now. Think about the risks we are exposing them to by keeping them in the dark. And while we’re at it, we need to think about the 8.4 crore children who are not in school. Imagine if each of them were equipped with knowledge about how to take care of their sexual health, what questions to ask, and whom to ask. We could reduce the number of new STD or HIV infections. We could reduce the number of injuries and accidents. Less unwanted pregnancies. Less fear of abortion. Less fear of families and ‘honour’ and people wrecking their bodies. Hell we could even rescue sex from a cultural quagmire, and restore it as something that’s fun, pleasurable, and legitimately a way for two or more humans to bond with each other!

I don’t know about you, but that’s the future I think India’s youth should be stepping into.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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