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Why We Need Sex Education Based On Health, Consent And Pleasure- Not Abstinence!

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HIV is still a scary thing. I think that the first step to fighting this epidemic is to start talking about it. I now label myself as HIV-neutral, as the virus no longer has any transmittable power, not once it’s controlled by medication. I also hate an acronym, so I vowed to change HIV into ‘hope-is-viral’. Hope can be spread through both art and communicating openly about subjects that were once taboo, which is why I’m still writing and talking about them. I am unashamedly, unapologetically a proud out HIV+ gay man.

In my opinion, medically HIV does not kill people anymore but mentally and socially it still does. In my 7 years of being positive, that is the main area where we need to focus our efforts. Stigma is everywhere and people still hold onto those old narratives from the 80s and ’90s.

The LGBT community continues to face stigma, discrimination, and an increased risk for health issues like HIV/AIDS, which disproportionately impacts our population. It is very important for people in my LGBTQ community as well as people all over the world to get tested and know their status. First, you can save your life by knowing your status and getting on treatment- is not a death sentence anymore, and we can live long, productive lives with HIV and grow old.

Second, “treatment as prevention” means that if you know your status, you are not only saving your life, but you are saving other human lives too. We know that if you are on HIV medication and become undetectable (which means that the virus is dormant), it’s almost impossible to pass the virus to another person although I promote always using condoms to prevent others.

I urge everyone to take an HIV test annually and to be proactive with their health. I’m showing people that this virus won’t kill you and that you can live a long, normal, healthy life. We have to raise our voice and fight against this outdated health education, the stigma around the disease, and abstinence-based sex education, things working against us. I was quite restrained in terms of who I’ve told and I haven’t told in my family, though I’m naturally an open person.

When I came out as gay, there were relatives that said your ‘choice’ will mean you will get AIDS. Now I have HIV, I know there would be people who would say I told you so, all the gays have it and I don’t want to give them that pleasure. It’s sad that some people are hopelessly clueless, but that’s where we are. There’s a higher degree of stigma to this than almost anything I can think of HIV is no longer a death sentence, because of the medication, and the fact that I look after myself, my health is really good.

The public and the media aren’t aware that by being on treatment and having an undetectable viral load, people with HIV have a functional cure at the moment. I think there’s a risk that even with younger more liberal people, in their head somewhere is the incorrect ideas that you can catch HIV from toilet seats, handshakes, breathing on you, sneezes and things, right back to the 80s stigma.

When in fact, with undetectable status even if I kitchen knifed my hand by accident and bled all over you, you would be fine. Many people seem to feel like getting HIV would be the worst thing that you could possibly imagine. That fear is preventing a lot of people from getting tested. They’re exposing themselves and others to harm as a result and by not testing they’re missing out on the opportunity I had to get diagnosed early and get on top of it from the very outset.

I’m more careful about my daily habits. I used to push myself too hard when I was exercising but now I allow myself recovery time. Being open about my HIV is really important to me. There’s no shame. I’m a normal gay man, I didn’t do anything risky, I just crossed paths with someone selfish. That could happen to anyone and I want people to realise that. Once they will understand and realise it, that day I’ll able to say yes my India is truly independent. It’s no doubt a difficult task, people love to pint finger on me, still thinks it’s my mistake but I’m doing my part and I know it’s not only good for me but for my fellows, poz people of India who are suffering from this virus and this stigma is making there life hell. With our love, strong will, acceptance, compassion, we can end this horrible disease and make our future HIV free.

I suppose the reason I always share my beliefs and experiences is that I want people to know that having HIV isn’t always about life stories full of disaster and woe. For me, I’m not letting this get me down, I’m glad I got tested. I just wish everybody would because it’s so discreet, so confidential, so professional. Anyone that’s sexually active should be getting tested. I believe that I could be able to speak out about HIV and demonstrate to other people that, don’t judge someone, if you don’t know about something educate yourself and listen to a positive person telling you about who they are. See them as another human being, not just as somebody with HIV. Because we are the same people, it is just we have the HIV virus in us.

Ignorance isn’t always bliss. HIV was able to take many lives because we were ignorant about this disease. But we can ensure an HIV free world by making everyone aware of this disease. For a safe and better future, we have to change our mentality and spread awareness. Today, let’s make India and the world a better place for those suffering from this virus.

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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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