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It’s 2020 And Sex Education Is Still Not A Part Of Our Curriculum

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

Our beliefs, attitudes and even reactions are a result of conditioning. And naturally, so is our perspective towards menstruation and the dialogue around it. My school had comprehensive sexuality education sessions when we were stepping into adolescence, and this is where I had my initial rendezvous with periods and its biology. So when I got my first, I was aware of what my body was going through.

When I say this, I do acknowledge that keeping in mind India’s education system; I am one of the privileged few. In retrospection, I have realised a couple of things. First, because we had these sessions separately for boys and girls, it reinforced the entire idea that everything about my body was only a ‘girl’s affair’. Second, there was no mention of the changes the male body goes through and vice versa in the boy’s sessions.

National Education Policy

So What Are Policymakers Doing About It?

The New Education Policy of 2020 boasts of multiple entries and exit options in universities, less importance of board exams and focus on skill training. Yet it has no mention of something as substantial as comprehensive sexuality education.

This makes it evident how CSE is still not regarded as a necessity. However, under the Ayushman Bharat scheme, the ‘Health and Wellness Curriculum’ has 11 modules that will focus on teaching what textbooks don’t. I wonder why!

These include growing up healthy; emotional well-being and mental health; interpersonal relationships; values and responsible citizenship; gender equality; nutrition, health and sanitation; promotion of healthy lifestyles; prevention and management of substance misuse; reproductive health and HIV prevention; safety and security against violence and injuries; and promotion of safe use of the internet, media and social media.

Menstruation is a part of the “growing up healthy” module. As a signatory of the 1994 UN International Conference on Population and Development, India is obliged to provide free and compulsory CSE for adolescents. If it fails to do so, it will be considered as a violation of human rights of Indian adolescents.

According to The Kashmir Images, experts claim that “Youth in India needs sex education more than the youth in any other country since child marriage ensures that one not only have sex at a young age, but girls also have teenage pregnancies.” However, the implementation of anything outside the textbook has a sad reality in India. An important question still lingers- how prepared are the stakeholders (i.e. parents, teachers and students)?

Are The Catalysts Ready?

I was in 7th grade. A guy in my class was taking out a notebook from my friend’s bag when he found something wrapped in newspaper. It was a sanitary napkin, and as he went on to open its packaging, we tried to stop him. He ran to the other end of the class with the pad in his hand, and the guys burst out in laughter, while my friend stood there red out of embarrassment as if she had done something wrong. The teacher was informed, and she scolded the guy in front of the class and asked him to “never touch a girl’s bag”.

sex educationThe teachers or the “catalysts” as Ramesh Pokhriyal calls them are the mediators of this change. A male and female teacher will be appointed as ‘health and wellness ambassadors’. An NCERT official said “A National Resource Group of 40-50 people will be formed, which will further train teachers in states. The curriculum will be implemented in government schools to start with, and then we will take it to private schools.”

A very crucial factor remains; the open-mindedness, availability of infrastructure and support from parents. Training of teachers has no inclusion of sex education training, so, a teacher who has specialisation in this field should be appointed. In 2014, our current health minister Harsh Vardhan opposed sex education in schools as he believed it went against Indian values and suggested that yoga should be compulsory.

I have this vivid memory of one of my CSE sessions. A maths teacher in our school who was conducting it along with the school counsellor said, “You all are girls. You must sit sophisticatedly. Pleat your skirts with your hands and then sit. Don’t keep your legs apart, especially on your period.

There still seems to be a long way for our education system to go. Anecdotes from my friends and family members reveal that they never had anything like CSE in their adolescence. CSE feels like a pipe-dream in India. Even though there are a plethora of policies in place and relevant treaties signed by India, the ground reality remains despicable. Implementation, yet again, remains the biggest problem.

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writers training programme.

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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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