– –Simran Arora, a 10th grader from the American School of Bombay
Have you ever felt like you were unable to talk about something just because of the stigma around it? Or wondered why gender roles work the way they do? In a country like India, millions of similar questions prevail, with answers nobody can provide. Stigma, gender roles, discrimination are simply an accepted part of life in most of the country, especially the lower classes of the population. Everyday, we are faced with hearing about assaults, rape, objectification, and so much more, but the root cause of this goes far beyond the attacker themself.
In Mumbai’s infamous red light district, also known as Kamathipura, HIV/Aids and other STI’s run rampant in the community of female sex workers. One of the root causes is lack of education. Both men and women fall victim into believing dangerous myths about the disease, that is if they even know what HIV is in the first place. For example, some men think that sex without a condom increases sexual potency, or that sex with a virgin restores masculinity. Many of them even believe that sex workers contract HIV due to lack of hygiene, or washing their hands. Due to this mentality, there is a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the community, and a high frequency of STI infections among the women who work in brothels.
It’s not only the people who work in brothels being affected by this backward mentality, but even most rape cases, assaults and general discrimination between sexes can all be traced back to lack of proper education, specifically sex and health education in schools targeting lower income families. Up to 95% of India still classifies as lower class, and they are the most uneducated about these topics. Despite this, social stigma affects every person living in India either directly, or indirectly. Women cannot buy a condom without being called shameless, but men are free to brag about as many of their sexual conquests as they like. There is absolutely no reason for this taboo to exist in culture where women feel like they cannot openly discuss anything related to sex.
A video conducted as a social experiment shows the hostility a girl is treated with in trying to purchase condoms, and the employees address how she has ‘no shame’ behind her back. Why should it be okay for men to show the world they are sexually active, but not women? Once again, this is if men even know why they are using condoms, because some do not.
Education projects have been conducted with adults, however it is difficult to change the mentality of a person once it has already been accepted by them, and the society around them. Therefore, the best and most sustainable solution would be to introduce sex and health education in schools that do not already have it, and for those who do have it, edit their curriculum to incorporate important topics they have missed. Sex education should treat sexual development as a normal, natural part of human development.
As more teenagers are becoming sexually active from a younger age, it becomes more important for them to be equipped with the proper resources earlier on. Studies show that sex education does not encourage teens to become sexually active any sooner than they already would, but just enforces safety and lays out potential risks, as well as how to prevent them.
Comprehensive sex education covers a variety of topics like safe sex, contraception, STI’s/STD’s, and also addresses topics about sexual health like consent, discusses sexual abuse, assault and rape. Once men are aware of these issues, the number of rape cases would hopefully decline, and once women know how to handle these situations, they would be equipped with the resources not to give in. Not only would it help statistics, but it would help so many individuals, and it would be a huge leap in eradicating the social stigma.
Not only does sex education provide useful content, it also helps people understand healthy and unhealthy relationships, as well as respecting their bodies along with others’. It discusses identifying healthy and unhealthy relationship patterns, effective communication of needs, managing conflict, and strategies to avoid or end unhealthy relationships. Effective sex education teaches young people what constitutes as sexual violence, that it is wrong, and how to ask for help as a victim. Students learn to communicate about sexuality and sexual health, and openly address contraception and condoms, as well as activities they are not ready for. This protects the youths’ health throughout their lives.
A country like India has many problems not everyone can even begin to comprehend, and sex education is the first and most essential part of the jigsaw of solutions to begin solving them. Looking at issues past sexual assaults and violence, sex education could even be the solution to domestic violence, reduce HIV transmissions, prevent millions of unwanted pregnancies (one of the reasons for overpopulation), and ensure the health and well-being of people. It would also target social stigma and working towards eradicating that would mean a step towards more freedom for women as they would not feel trapped in this societal taboo of gender norms.
(SImran has an interest in public policy and has decided not to remain silent about the devastating impact of unprotected sex, especially in the lower classes of Indian society. She has taken a proactive step and designed a sex education curriculum targeting the backward classes where the prevalence of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s) and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s) is highest.
Simran has lived and been educated in New York and Mumbai, affording her a unique insight into varying cultures and societies. The social stigma surrounding a number of issues in Mumbai has inspired her to design the sex education curriculum and increase awareness around safe sex.
Simran was inspired to design a sex education curriculum for the lower classes due to the increasing spread of HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases, as there is a lack of awareness in this section of society. With highest youth population in the world, India faces a growing challenge to ensure proper sex education for all its youth with a strong taboo around the issue. The attached opinion piece will take you through Simran’s observations on why sex education is necessary for the growth, health and wellbeing of our society.)