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

How Do We Start A Conversation On Love, Respect, And Emotions In Classrooms?

During this lockdown, I finally got to be home with my son for weeks at a stretch (no travelling, yay!) and also took some time to catch up on movies. And the one that’s playing on the mind as I sit down to write this piece is the Taapsee Pannu starrer Thappad.

A still from the movie Thappad.

The protagonists, Vikram and Amrita, live in their plush South Delhi suburban home, dreaming of a life together in London. Vikram is busy nurturing his career and Amrita is busy nurturing him, their home, and his family. Then comes the thappad (slap) and it unravels their perfect life.

How did Vikram and Amrita get there? Vikram was so busy building his career, a star in his office, that he forgot to nurture his relationship with Amrita.

Amrita, the perfect partner, carer, and homemaker, didn’t realise or express when and where their relationship began to hurt.

Despite both being ‘achievers’ in their own ways, Vikram and Amrita failed.

I have no doubt they both ‘did well’ at school. I am sure Vikram learnt through his MBA all the tricks and skills to succeed at that high-flying job. I feel fairly confident Amrita was the quintessential quiet, obedient, all-round performer that teachers and parents adore.

But did anyone teach Vikram how to nurture a relationship? Did anyone teach Amrita how to say things that are difficult, to express her emotions and not lose herself in a relationship until that moment of violence? Was there anything in their school or college curriculum that could have prepared Amrita and Vikram for this part of life?

Our education system is currently geared to prepare our children for that ‘job package’. Although some would argue if it does that properly either? But who teaches them to deal with the stress, the anxiety, the pressures that will come with that job with the package?

Our adult life comprises essentially two aspects – the professional and the personal. The Professional in us deals with the business of livelihoods while the Personal deals with Self and what’s important to us in our life—people, place or things. Often, these aspects are hard to separate or distinguish. But while our education system prepares us ‘well’ for the Professional, when it comes to the Personal, we are usually on our own. Yes, with supportive parents, it is still manageable, but this is not the case with everyone, especially anyone who may be growing up slightly out of the mainstream.

Even with the best of support, there are some conversations that just don’t happen, for example, those around sexuality. I can bet the percentage of parents or teachers that have spoken to their children or students about sex is less than one. And here too I may be overestimating.

Representational image.

Continually, aspiring and pushing our children towards success, we find it hard to talk to our children about failure too. And then every summer, as the exam results are declared, the news cycle is full of grim reports on teenage suicides. Some of these happen over failed relationships or peer pressure.

What I find interesting is the outpouring of outrage to such incidents. Everyone wonders why such things happen and talks about the urgent need to help create a future that is safe for our children – a world where there are no rapes, no suicides, no violence in relationships.

But there is little, if any, conversation on how all of this is going to happen. How will we get to that wonderful world? Soon enough, the rage, anger, discussion, and desperation die down only to reappear when another incident happens. A classic cycle.

Working on Love Matters for over a decade and addressing thousands of queries from young people, every year, on issues that matter to them, I have realised that for people from the age 10 onwards, there is a gaping hole when it comes to information. Information that young people should get during adolescence only reaches them, if at all, in adulthood. And by this time they have already taken several decisions in life that they ought to have had more information early on—some with life-long consequences.

This is where life skills education for adolescents matters. Still, a fairly new concept in India, the relevance of life skills learning in schools has been recognized globally.

A life skills education prepares children to handle the ‘Personal’. It teaches them about respect, empathy, diversity, and many such values that are integral to a healthy, happy, and content adulthood. It also includes nuanced conversations on sex, sexuality, consent, bullying, peer pressure, dealing with stress, internet safety, and everything else young people today are faced with as they grow up—besides academics.

Dr Shishir Palsapure, psychotherapist, life skills trainer, Associate Fellow and Supervisor at Albert Ellis Institute, New York and founder of CORE programme for schools says, “Essential life skills are like shock-ups on your bike. They don’t repair the path but make your ride smoother.

Like Palsapure’s work, there have been other efforts made in this direction. The Delhi government’s happiness curriculum looks at the social and emotional well-being of children whereas the Rashtriya Kishore Swasthya Yojana focuses on adolescent health issues including conversations on body autonomy.

However, there is still a need for integrating life skills education as a structured and much-integrated part of school curriculums to make it truly universal. There is also a need to involve parents as important stakeholders in the process because much of this education also needs to be reinforced at home There is a need to train parents on how to have those difficult conversations at home.

To that end, after months of hard labour, we have come out with a comprehensive and exciting life skills resource – TeenBook.We hope it will engage teenagers, and at the same time be of great value to educators and parents in India. We have developed this resource as a bilingual website named TeenBook, which contains detailed information on nine major topics that are of relevance to teenagers covering topics such as puberty, online safety, stress management, peer pressure and bullying, to name a few.

I hope for TeenBook to be available across India in as many languages as possible and to also actively shape the offline part of this process. TeenBook will also be a foundation for trainings, workshops and sessions for adolescents, parents and children to further facilitate the learning for adolescents and build capacities for the same among parents and educators.

The COVID-19 era has made a resource like TeenBook even more crucial. With the education system under severe pressure on how to just keep up with basic schooling, social, emotional and life skills learning is likely to be (unfortunately) put on the back burner. Even as the pandemic hits school students’ social or mental well-being, schools are likely to be even less prepared to cope with the non-academic requirements of the children.

This scenario is also a wake-up call for some of us who may feel that well we ‘sailed through’ just fine without having any life skills education and hope our kids will too. Unfortunately, the world has changed. Our children are growing up in a different reality, where they will have access to information and content that we did not.

Wouldn’t it be better if we got there before the internet does? Wouldn’t it be better if we taught them about life pressures, stress, consent and sex before they land on that dodgy clip and before any harm is done?

For our children to be truly successful in their lives we need to provide the space and resources for them to do that.

TeenBook has come to life with just that purpose. It aims to bring a mindset shift towards supporting our children with their emotional, social and behavioural health well-being and not just a single-minded focus on their academic or professional excellence. Are you with me on this? Do send in your thoughts!

Find out more about TeenBook here.

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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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