Did you know that more than 800 million women menstruate everyday, and two out of three girls in some countries have no idea of what is happening to them when they begin menstruating?
Indians, sometimes even the well-read urban kind, often tend to attach a whole lot of sensitivity to the topic of sex and menstruation, regarding it with the most vicious taboo. It is thus a natural consequence that education that teaches their children about sexual well-being is met with the highest resistance possible – from parents, teachers, lawmakers and conservative society.
It is largely believed that talking about sexuality and its awareness may instead corrupt young adolescents. But ironically, they are the perfect target of corruption if left untaught about their bodies, leaving them highly vulnerable in the midst of their own physiological changes.
Millions of women do not have access to sanitary pads every day, they don’t have any idea of the dangers that they can face without proper menstrual hygiene. Every person – male or female should be aware of the diseases that could be caused if a woman does not have access to menstrual hygiene products.
Another problem faced by young children is abuse. Nearly 50% of girls and boys face sexual abuse in their lives, in a survey done by Ministry of Women and child development. It is the responsibility of parents and teachers to empower these young people with the knowledge to protect themselves against such abuse. It is also argued that such an education depletes the need to act out sexual urges in a disrespectful manner, thus reducing the instances of adolescents violating others and growing further criminal behavioural traits. The education system as a whole needs to provide these pillars of support, they need to guide their children for them to make good choices.
Too many young people receive confusing and conflicting information about relationships and sex, as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood. They can’t be expected to know everything there is to know about sex. They need to be aware of the changes happening in their body and how it affects the way they see the world. This cannot happen if we leave them in the dark, making them grope their way through all the rumours and beliefs they’ve heard about, unable to distinguish facts from fiction.
We need to sit down with boys and girls and stress the importance of being aware of the changes they're going to go through. It is especially important to include boys in the conversation too, as they need to know what problems people around them face so that they can equally contribute to find a solution. Making both boys and girls talk about it removes the stigma associated with this apparently sensitive topic, and opens up discussions among more and more people.
This proves the importance of a programme introduced by UNESCO, called Comprehensive Sexuality Education. Comprehensive sexuality education is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. It aims to help children and young people consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others; and understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.
We as a society need to work on empowering the youth. The only way we can do this is giving them the education to sustain themselves and removing the stigma behind certain topics. We as a society shy away from topics that we think can destabilize our beliefs and hence there is a barrier, a blockage formed. Unless we break through the barrier, we as a society cannot grow and proudly call ourselves an "educated species".
As a country, as a growing economy, as a society, we’re launching our children into the world, where they’re going to encounter experiences that may change their life. There’s nothing we can do to predict the uncertain, but the least we can do is equip them with knowledge that will help build their character as individuals, making them ever ready to face any hurdles. Educating the youth makes them more productive and enables them to make better choices, which therefore help society as a whole.
We call our education system complex and advanced, but if it doesn’t enlighten us on topics such as these, what purpose does it truly serve us? Is it worth ignoring, for the resistance it encounters in conservative society?
Written by Akshaya Krishnan
Graphics by Nikita Dhamija