Recently the Youth Parliament Foundation (TYPF), which I founded ten years ago in Delhi, conducted 12 consultations for the National AIDS Control Organization in India for recommendations on how the 4th National AIDS Control (NACO) Programme should be structured to best address HIV prevention education. We talked to 280 young girls and boys from 5 states. During one of these conversations in a community center, I got asked a question by 21 year old young man in a group discussion with really struck me: “Is sex an illness? Do we get sick from it? What’s the difference between HIV and sex?” And then more recently, a 19 year old boy who is a peer educator with TYPF asked another question important question that showed a similar sense of confusion:
How do you identify the difference between consent and violence if you don’t know what sexuality is? If I don’t know how to recognize what is 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?
These sentiments really puts into context why we began working ten years ago at The YP Foundation with young men and boys, addressing them in programs that target gender equality and ensuring young women’s rights. As per figures from NACO, 78% of young people under the age of 20 do not know how to have safer sex. What is of key concern is the lack of safe spaces for young people at the community level to address concerns and access evidence based, non-discriminatory, comprehensive information to understand their bodies, their attitudes, gender roles and rights. Very few people are challenging ideas of gender and masculinity within patriarchal societies and with men and boys. There is an expectation we have, of successfully engaging them in creating gender equality without providing them good quality sexuality education and that’s unrealistic.