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Social Media Has Made One Thing Clear. We Can’t Ignore The Need For Sex Education

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From redefining and shaping the scope for alternative learning, platforms for voicing oneself, enhancing social relations, community building… for all the good that it does, social media also comes with its flip side. Exposure to inappropriate content that is damaging to the development and growth of young minds, toxic cultures that have a negative psychological impact, and vulnerability to online predators.

Toxic mishaps like these have been happening all over the world, in various nooks and corners. In 2017, authorities in the Philippines have rescued four girls and arrested a mother and two other women for allegedly live-streaming sexually exploitative videos of children to men paying by the minute to watch from the United States.

The online world has a dark side, as in the last four years there has been an 88% increase in the number of cyber-related sex crimes against children across the East of England. Of the 44 police forces across the UK, 40 provided data on cyber-related sex crimes against children under 18, including grooming, sexual communication with a child, and rape. A growing number of Australians are directing the sexual abuse of children living overseas using live streaming services like Skype.

The online world has a dark side, as in the last four years there has been an 88% increase in the number of cyber-related sex crimes against children across the East of England. Representational image.

Numerous unhealthy and toxic practices are harboured by social media platforms- leading to the harm of many. Young children are often being moulded in a specific way to buy merchandise, dress a certain way, eat certain foods, listen to specific music, and think a specific way in order to be accepted. And more often than not, even then they don’t feel accepted. Over time, social media has become an unsafe space, making us more vulnerable to toxic cultures each day.

The title, the thumbnail, the picture, the checkmark, star, or badge next to your name become your identity. The number of likes, claps, thumbs up, stars, followers, fans, subscribers, comments, retweets, all make or break your content even before someone clicks or watches, or reads it. Many use social media to upload videos that contain abusive/phobic content. They make hundreds and thousands of people of a specific gender/religion/quota, feel unsafe and unwanted.

One of the most unfortunate manifestations of this, that made it to the mainstream news, is an incident which happened exactly 6 months ago- the Bois Locker Room: an Instagram ‘scandal’, involving a chat room of teenage boys from Delhi. It started on May 3, 2020, when a member of the group leaked chats containing obscene images of 15 teenage girls. The controversy flared after screenshots of the leaked chats and morphed photos of young girls were posted on Instagram and Twitter.

Within a couple of days, the hashtag #boislockerroom was retweeted over 30,000 times. It is hard to imagine what the girls whose morphed photos spread throughout the internet have been compelled to go through. Such acts have a lifelong impact on the mental health and personal growth and identity of the survivors.

One of the biggest contributing factors to such incidents is the prevalence of rape culture in schools. Members of the Bois Locker Room, said to be high school students from some of Delhi’s top schools, posted photos of teenage girls without their consent along with offensive comments. A number of conversations purportedly showed members talking about sexually assaulting their classmates, and even proposing the idea of gang-raping a particular underage girl. It was later revealed that this initiator was the girl herself. This undoubtedly sparked fury about the normalization of rape, misogyny, and objectification in schools.

Even teachers, unknowingly or knowingly. contribute to such toxic cultures and environments. According to social media accounts that posted the screenshots, members of the ‘Bois Locker Room‘ threatened to leak nude photographs of the women who reported them. Thus, once again, social media became the platform where one can snatch the other’s sense of safety and comfort.

Like this incident, hundreds of underage students often try to prove themselves as the most ‘cool’, brave, and most masculine one of their group, thus leading to harassment of a hundred others. The complex emotional state in which youth find themselves, stigma surrounding matters of a sexual nature in the Indian society, and widespread gender inequality faced makes it increasingly challenging for adolescents to attain the knowledge they need.

When children and adolescents are given correct information, they are in a better position to make responsible and safer choices for themselves. Representational image.

The first step to mend ourselves as a society, among many others, should be to implement sex education in educational institutions – to addresses misogyny, rape culture, and sexist outlook openly.

When children and adolescents are given correct information, they are in a better position to make responsible and safer choices for themselves. Our aim should be to equip students with information and knowledge about their bodies, consent, and identity to make informed choices about their own lives and emphasize the importance of “doing what’s right.Sex education will help students unlearn and learn attitudes and values that empower them to acknowledge mental health, well-being, and dignity and develop respectful social relationships.

The issues of patriarchal control of bodies, labour, resources, spaces, or connection between violence and toxic masculinity can be potentially engaged with through Adolescent Sex Education. An inclusive outlook towards differently-abled and non-heterosexual gender identities and expressions can be built. Such a curriculum will open spaces for students to be able to learn to identify gender-based violence at home, school, or in society and develop agency to speak up against it.

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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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