Why is sexuality so problematic?
Why as society, are we so scared to address any kind of sexuality education or rights cohesively? What stops us from giving young people complete rather than half baked information that is critical and live saving and that can protect them from disease, empowers them to be informed individuals and that teach them to be respectful to their own needs and desires and to be respectful towards the rights of others as well?
We at The YP Foundation realized, that all of awareness work we are doing around the prevention of HIV/AIDS, wasn’t nearly half as effective as it should have been, because there is this underlying silence that no one in will address. Young people are contracting HIV every day because they do not have the knowledge and tools to protect themselves. When you take the so called ‘safer route’ and substitute conversations about recognizing multiple sexuality and gender identities, staying healthy and protecting oneself from STI’s and feeling comfortable with one’s own body with conversations instead, about promoting self control and abstinence, you destroy any open space or possibility for conversation between young people and their families and communities.
In India, the public health lens, tends to focus more on the Adolescent Child or the Men and Women framework, any language or policy around protecting the needs and rights of young people, despite their being one of the high risk groups in HIV, is mostly tokenistic and largely absent. The Indian gender lens tends to recognize the girl child or the married mother, the rights of young boys and girls and men and women are largely left out. Sexuality is still understood in many parts of India only as “health seeking behaviour” and is still not always seen, as a basic part of being a human being. This makes empowering young women and girls especially, critical.
In 2007, UNICEF and the National Aids Control Organization in India worked together with the Central Government to introduce India’s Sexuality Education Curriculum. A landmark initiative, that looked at introducing sexuality education across the public health and education framework of India. In March 2007, a fundamental inability within state governments to understand what sexuality education actually is, led 13 state governments to ban the sexuality education curriculum. They set up a National Task Force in India to make the curriculum, as they put it, ‘more culturally adaptable’. In 2008, they released a revise draft of this curriculum. It now has no diagrams to explain the anatomy or sex, not even to the teachers who will be teaching this curriculum to students, there are instead, cartoon animated characters. There is no information on how sexually transmitted infections occur or on how to use a condom.
And this is how; we are supposed to reduce vulnerability of young people to infections like HIV and help them understand and respect, their own rights, their own bodies and their own health.
Ishita Chaudhry is the founder of the YP Foundation in India. This is part three of a series posting Ishita’s remarks made for a United States Congressional Briefing, Global Youth: A Strategic Investment on March 3, 2009. Download the full remarks here. Read the other installments here.