This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by PLD-India. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

What We Learned From Honest Conversations With Youth About Sex, Desire And Consent

More from PLD-India

By Prashastika Sharma and Gaurika Sood

Building A Culture Of Consent

The youth engagement in colleges and community centres over the last few months have thrown up insights into diverse experiences of navigating consent and the ways people grapple with rejection in the contexts of friendships and sexual interest and how it sometimes overlaps with harassment. These discussions also raised issues of definitions – what do we know consent to be? Is it always pleasing, respectful and validating? And how do we receive rejection? Is it always hurtful and shameful, how must one deal with it?

This article sets out observations from workshops conducted as part of PLD’s (Partners for Law in Development) preventive work with students in higher education and in community collectives across 6 cities, between the ages of 15 and 25. PLD’s videos served to open up conversations, often resonating very closely with experiences that were shared. Most participants identified as cis-gendered persons, limiting the insights shared to a gender binary.

Why Is Talking About Consent Important?

Sexual consent has received wider public attention with the #MeToo movement, highlighted among other things, the unspoken and unresolved issues of sexual transgression and hurt in interpersonal relationships. It also brought into focus the experiences of students in academia and universities with hierarchies and power imbalances, when these assume sexual overtones.

PLD’s sexual harassment training, over the last five years, threw up the many fault lines of consent in the context of friendships, attraction and desire. It is these cases on which PLD’s video series on consent and rejection are based, as are its initiatives towards developing consent cultures among youth. We believe that having consent defined in law does not translate into the practice of consent in our personal and public lives, in the sexual and other areas. Hence, there is a need to unpack what consent means, across contexts, and to recognise that beyond binaries of black and white, lie the many experiences of greys.

The accounts in the workshops are rarely framed as “Yes is Yes and No means No” but are instead, messy accounts of difficult to decipher feelings, or retrospective clarity or at times as clear as “wanting to only kiss you on the cheeks today”. For any change to seep in, it is crucial to talk of consent, not only in its violation but as an everyday practice within and outside the sexual realm.

Linking Gender, Sexuality And Consent

Our identities are ridden with gender, religion, caste and class positions and embedded into relative hierarchical locations determining how we negotiate with power and agency, and to what extent our choices and preferences matter, in interactions with one another, both sexual and otherwise.

One’s gender plays a role in prescribed sexual norms and attributes; for example, a lot of you may have noticed that as soon as young girls hit puberty, their introduction to sexuality and agency is through fear-inducing phrases like ‘Ladkon ka kuchh nahi bigadta, ladki ki zindagi kharab ho jati hai'(It doesn’t affect a boy’s life, it only damages the lives of girls). These values end up normalising impunity, stigmatising consensual relationships and reiterating the belief that girls are not smart enough to decide for themselves and cannot be trusted.

Conversations About Girls

In the words of one of our participants, “Girls get into relationships for love and romance and boys want sex”. Also, “Girls give a lot of mixed signals keeping us confused”! The boys in the room seemed to concur. To this, a girl responded, “We are judged by the same lot if we say yes to sex in the initial stages or get into a relationship for the sake of it”, exemplifying the complicated and contradictory ways in which social privilege and power operate in our society.

A few girls also pointed to the shaming they go through if they are actively seeking boyfriends, and consenting to sex, putting them in the conundrum of facing shame while navigating their desires. A few men pointed out that since adolescence; cinematic representations and other popular stereotypes led them to believe that women are by nature ‘bewafa’ (unfaithful), uncertain and emotional. This stigmatises women who initiate break up.  A deeper dig led to a conclusion that girls who break up or enter into another relationship right after a breakup are not ‘good women’. In addition, these stereotypes help some men to externalise their heartbreak by blaming the ex.

Not Enough Space For Women To Say ‘Yes’

Another key point was the fact that there is not enough space for women to say ‘yes’ and explore. The restrained femininity which was the ideal for far too long is still admired and ‘honour’ killings are still a reality. How do women negotiate their consent in a sexual relationship which has to be hidden and has its own gendered dynamics? As a few girls said, in situations where the parents are stricter in terms of moral policing their behaviour, negotiating choices within a relationship becomes even trickier and sometimes leaves them at the mercy of their boyfriends. This is due to the fear of backlash and violence at the hands of their family and relatives. Increased acceptance of mistakes made and a sense of responsibility might be the way forward, but it hinges on a much greater critical reflection about gender roles, sexuality and desire. We don’t yet have the interventions or support services to respond to these.

Conversations About Boys

How men negotiate with consent and expressions of it was equally insightful. Participants claimed that boys are not well trained in handling rejection, often resulting in aggressive and violent reactions, including acid attacks, slut shaming, and voyeurism and stalking. A deeper dig into the problem explains the fact that gendered socialisation and norms of ideal romance revolve around monogamous and conventional understandings of masculinity and femininity which are often pitted in opposition to each other.

Crying, healing and expressions of vulnerability are not rewarding for men, pushing them towards being controlling, possessive and less respectful of the boundaries of their partners. “Handling breakups and emotional upheaval are the toughest for men”, a participant reiterated. It’s time we start talking about hurt of all kinds and encourage boys and men to understand and handle rejection. In order to do that, we will have to start accepting vulnerability, expressions of need and desires free of the confines of masculinity and femininity.

“If brotherhood has to be evoked, why can it not be evoked in vulnerabilities and dialogue?”, asked a woman participant, when we conversed about how and with who we should start talking about sexism and consent culture.

What Are The Youth’s Vital Concerns In Relation To Sexuality And Harassment? 

The limitations of educational institutions are that they neglect issues of sexuality, even while they minimally respond to harassment. Some of the vital concerns are summarised below:

  • Lack of awareness about Internal Complaint Committees: The minimum that educational institutions are required to do as mandated by UGC guidelines, 2016 is to set up an Internal Complaints Committee and organise awareness workshops on sexual harassment. However, some universities we visited, students were largely unaware of the existence of such committees, and how to approach them. Although the institutions are responsible for not publicising this enough, the students also need to initiate and assume leadership on issues that of sexuality and consent, holding programmes around these as a way forward.
  • Envisioning ‘preventive interventionprogrammes: The participants expressed the need for something beyond instituting mechanisms and awareness workshops on sexual harassment. There is a need to move beyond the information on existing laws and punishments to create spaces for listening to students, let them feel safe and allow them to express their experiences of grief and hurt. Preventive work is still nascent and hasn’t matured fully for such creative solutions to be instituted within universities.
  • Lack of faith in authorities: On the other hand, the experience with redressal of formal complaints in most educational institutions have created a lack of trust and confidence in the administration. The workshops brought our attention to various complaints that were registered and then subsequently ignored or not met with the seriousness they warranted, with close to no repercussions for the alleged respondents.
  • Repression of student mobilisation and unity: Several protests have broken out in response to instances of harassment in university spaces all across the country. The administration’s response to patriarchal cultures is to enforce stricter curfews, CCTV surveillance, suspension, restriction on outsiders’ entry and other such instruments of patriarchal control over women in the name of safety. Examples of moral policing, restrictions on women’s mobility and freedom are many, which only discourage students and make collectivising more contentious.
  • Incorporating social justice within academic disciplines: The long-standing stereotype about ‘technical disciplines’ is that they are relatively less aware and sensitive to social issues that plague the country. This may be due to the limited exposure they are provided in their academic material and heavy coursework. Students of social sciences, who one might assume have greater familiarity with issues of caste and gender, often are as unaware. This is a commentary on not just the state of academic curricula but also on the larger worldview of what is seen as ‘productive’ within the educational system.
  • Lack of therapeutic services: Most of the participants expressed the need for some sort of collective counselling on abusive and toxic relationships. Our families and communities fail to teach us how to identify, draw and express when to say yes or no,  how to draw boundaries with one another. There is a need for mental health counselling and safe spaces in educational setups.

The Way Forward

A good practice would be to have an approach which assesses the youth’s ability to navigate and understand consent as well as risk assessment, not just in the context of sexual and romantic relationships, but also with gender, its play and performance.

Hence, more conversations on the role of peer pressure, family, language, films, advertisements, dating rules and structures of power in educational institutions are important to reach the ultimate goal of sensitisation and change. These are the key structures of social relations that form our understanding, and punish us for transgressing; therefore these are the ones that most need to be restructured. It is no wonder, therefore, that plenty of the participants recalled being punished for consenting to something which did not adhere to conventional expectations.

Prashastika works with PLD, implementing its youth outreach in colleges and communities on consent; Gaurika is an intern with PLD.

 

You must be to comment.

More from PLD-India

Similar Posts

By Love Matters India

By Shabeena Anjum

By Nupur J

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below