And when as young people, we asked why this had happened, we received public quotes through the media, where the Chief Minister of a state, went on record to say, “Why do young people need Sex Education in India? We have Yoga.” A member of parliament described the need to implement comprehensive gender and sexuality education by saying “Sexuality Education is against Indian Culture. This manual will corrupt our children and encourage sexual experimentation.”
The addition of the US PEPFAR policy and the USAID restrictions on funding through the Global Gag Rule have only added to this moral fear, which withholds and discourages people from investing in and funding Sexual Reproductive Rights and Health programmes.
And this is part of why I’m talking to you here today. To give voice and representation to the countless number of young people that I work with in India, who need you to support that now, more than ever, governments as well as central education systems and institutions need to endorse to its people that Sexuality Education is about young people’s right to know. The arguments based on cohesive Sexuality Education being against our cultural and moral values are invalid and do not justify denying young people the information and skills they need and are entitled to.
As young people, we have learnt that comprehensive sexuality education does not ‘corrupt young minds’ or as WHO studies have shown, does not lead to an increase in early sexual activity but that a lack of information leads young people to access false, incomplete and harmful facts and puts them in high risk situations.
The US Government today, has a critical role to play in India, both in terms of how it can encourage and empower local community based movements within countries as well as how it can influence the Indian government, in encouraging it to endorse affirming education, information and services is about recognizing and respecting people’s basic human rights.
We need local embassies and US programmes in India to support young people and organizations that work with young girls and women by helping them develop their access to technical skills and information. The American Centre in Delhi, India is an excellent example of partners who have empowered and helped young people at The YP Foundation, by giving us a space and a ready platform where we can reach out to young people and communities on issues of HIV/AIDS, Sexuality, Health, Identity and Rights. It is only through the sharing of best practices from programmes here as well as promoting a cultural dialogue between two countries on these issues, that any kind of significant change can be achieved. We are encouraged that President Obama has advocated that age appropriate comprehensive sexuality education will replace abstinence only education in the United States and we hope that US Foreign Policy will encourage the establishment of these programmes, that can help protect the rights and health of millions of adolescents and young people.
For us in India, investing in building not just the knowledge and skills of a young person but also investing in their access to platforms where they can crystallize the change they wish to see, facilitates a larger redistribution of resources at a much larger level, because young people can acknowledge diversities and break societal and governmental constructs that are divisive rather than equitable.
As a young boy who volunteers with us put it, “How do you identify the difference between healthy and unhealthy sexual activity if you don’t know what it is? If I don’t know how to recognize what it acceptable and normal within me, if I can’t accept and celebrate the differences in myself, how do I know how to reach out for help, when I do need it and whom to go to?”
Ishita Chaudhry is the founder of the YP Foundation in India. This is part four 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.