On Monday June 7, 2021, Madras High Court ordered state and central govt. officials to build up elaborative plans for sweeping reforms to respect LGBTQ+ rights. A lesbian couple went to court complaining that they were harassed by police just because of their sexual identity.
In this case, Judge Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court ruled in favor of the couple. But reforming the laws around LGBTQ+ community is not enough. To build up a future society free from these, the middle and high school students in India desperately need comprehensive sex education. The police here can be blamed but origin of such discriminations lie deeper in the societal structure, hierarchy of Indian households and in the drought of sex education.
With the pride month kicking off in June, the recognition of communities beyond sexual orientations should obviously be pushed by the govt. by implementing protections and non-discriminatory laws, but along with that Indian children also need a good hold of sex education to make those laws successful. As govt. or police cannot go into each household to tackle small incidents of sexual discriminations and abuses, a thorough sex education is needed. Besides, sex ed can help reduce teen pregnancy, child marriage, sexually transmitted diseases and can improve overall quality of life.
What is sex education?
Sex education can be defined as well organized programs which offer information on scientific concept of sexuality and contraception. This also includes the gender identity, consent for sexual activities and awareness about sexual abuse. Above all, this is also a curriculum to teach sexual health and hygiene. With increasing use of internet and all the students spending most of their times on internet, now the sex education is needed more than ever.
The basic need of sex education to improve sexual health and outlook to society can be understood by the definition of sexual health.
In 1975, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a technical report on human sexuality where sexual health was defined as:
“Sexual health is the integration of the somatic, emotional, intellectual and social aspects of sexual being, in ways that are positively enriching and that enhance personality, communication, and love.”
A child or teenager should understand why they are going through the “somatic, emotional, intellectual and social aspects” and in some cases crisis around their gender identity. And that can only be done through sex education.
What are the barriers to implement a comprehensive sex education?
In Indian households, discussing anything about ‘sex’ or ‘reproduction’ including menstruation of women is taboo. So, the explaining of different gender identities is never done to a growing kid.
Sex education has faced extraordinary opposition, specifically for adolescents. In 2007, India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development was trying to promote a curriculum on sex education and controversy followed. Many oppositions complained this may lead the huge youth population of India to a ‘immoral’ path. Another rhetoric was sex education is coined by the western cultures and imposed on Indians. Both of the ideas do not have any rational base. As a result, many states barred themselves from implementing a mandatory sex education.
The present government is Hindu nationalist and considerably conservative in nature. From the beginning it has neglected the need of a sex education.
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In 2014, India’s Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan, declared that he wanted to ban sex education. Instead of sex education, Vardhan declared that yoga should be compulsory in schools. This declaration against sex education was in opposition to a 2007 health education program for adolescents that India’s National AIDS Control Organization and its Ministry of Human Resource Development was promoting. He opposed this education because he believed it was against traditional Indian values. In an interview with the New York Times, Vardhan said, “condoms promise safe sex, but the safest sex is through faithfulness to one’s partner.” There was a great amount of uproar among opposers because of all his comments on this topic encouraged abstinence over education. After receiving a lot of grief from his comments opposing sex education, he tweeted, “Media got it wrong again. I am against “so-called” sex education not sex education per se. Crudity, Vulgarity out, values in.”
After years of sex education being banned in many Indian states, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a sex education program in 2018. This education involves role-playing and activity-based modules that are taught by trained teachers and student peer educators. In this training, students learn about sexual violence and sexual health among other topics such as gender indentity. The whole training in total is 22 hours. Each week the schools set aside one period for the training. The outcome of this project is yet to be known.
What are the possible ways to implement sex education despite of conservativeness and societal taboo?
Sex education can be broken into parts and be rebranded.
From a very early age, sex ed can simply be introduced through the idea of relationships and family. At this young age, sex ed will not be based on human sexuality topics.
In primary schools (Class1-4), sex ed may still focus on broader topics. Students should learn what is physically appropriate and what is not, as well as boundaries which they should expect others to maintain and what should be done if those boundaries are crossed. This may include concept of gender and how the gender identity matters in society in a very playful but scientific manner.
Middle school (5-8) is the vital part of the sex education. Here sex education can be addressed through directly discussing the anatomical features of human body and how reproductive system works. This part can be smoothly blended in the biological sciences as most of the states teach reproductive systems in the middle school.
High school is the most important part of the sex ed. Here, not only one should know all the ways of having safe sex, but they should also know sexual relationships between different gender identities. This part of the sex-ed is the hardest and has faced repeated backlash from Indian politicians and people in general. But this should again be tried among young high school going population as increasing internet use from 2004 onwards have changed their mindset and parents may understand that after one year of pandemic home staying. According to some experts, another solution to this problem is to employ a dedicated social counselling teacher for each public school and make peer groups. In this way, the sex-ed is accompanied with mental health counselling. This also helps students to clear up issues and confusions about their gender identities and teach them to fight against the social discriminations against social prejudices.