Brandon Michael | 23 April 2020
“Sex-Ed enables you to keep making decisions for yourself, with an awareness of your context and safety as you go through life. It creates a dynamic agency for lifelong learning and growing.” - Agents of Ishq
Rubaroo started out by asking what Sex-Ed meant to the organizations that had joined for the chat. Feminism in India gave the response, “Comprehensive sexuality education is so much more than just sex education. It teaches children and adolescents age and stage appropriate behaviour to help them navigate boundaries, sexuality, puberty, and violation.” Agents of Ishq said that, “Sex-Ed gives you information about sexual health and rights, but also readies you for a healthy and happy adulthood - which includes being able to choose a sexual life that works for you, emotionally, physically, and politically, while respecting other people's needs and choices.”
This led to a discussion about Sex-Ed being added to curriculums. The organization Feminism in India jumped in again saying that, “Comprehensive sexuality education teaches young children the importance of their privacy and their autonomy over their bodies. Children learn to differentiate between "good touch" and "bad touch", and learn that it is not their fault if they have experienced abuse.” The Gender Security project added that, “Sex-Ed also gives children the means to understand that they have a right to exercise agency over their bodies to the exclusion of others, and that no one can infringe that.” Leher added one of the most important comments saying that, “Children need trusted adults around them to open up to and speak to. Sex-Ed and open conversations in classrooms can help children to not see sex as a taboo.” Ultimately, children need to have figures around them who are part of their daily routines, who they feel like that they can talk to. Prerana reiterated this saying that, “For children to understand abuse, it is also important to build an understanding of consent. At Prerana, we have started talking to our young adults about consent. Building an understanding of such issues takes time but goes a long way to help in building safe relationships.”
Rubaroo asked its twitter chat respondents to think about which groups are the most neglected when it comes to Sex-Ed. Super School India said, “Underprivileged individuals from the LGBTQI+ community for various reasons. The communities' identities, sexual feelings and health are not acknowledged as normal by the society, let alone spoken about from a health perspective.” Chhavi Dawar added that, “Socioeconomically deprived [kids are], individuals who don't identify as either of binary genders, kids who witness domestic abuse [or] parental neglect, these are all groups that are at risk of not just CSA but at risk of not being able to understand sexuality and express it in healthy ways.” Aanchal_therapist agreed with Super School India saying that, “The Queer community is often the most neglected because they don't talk about safe sex practices for lesbians ever. They don't address sex for trans individuals or people dating them, this creates “erasure,” which furthers discriminating the queer community.” Feminism in India says, “Sexuality education by itself is a rarity. Sexuality education that takes into account the perspectives, needs, and concerns of the LGBTQI+ population is virtually non-existent.”
After identifying marginalized communites, Rubaroo asked how Sex-Ed can be made inclusive and accessible in India. Sitaram SVS said, “To reach marginalized communities... language, dialect and lingo used in the locality makes it accessible.” They also added that, “the content localisation is crucial.” Prerana said that, “When we talk about access, it is important to remember that adults may also not have access either. Adults like parents, teachers, and also civil society organizations [who] work in those communities must be aware and should understand the need for sex-ed.” This is an incredibly insightful response, because although we may look at parents or adults as an enemy to sexual education, it’s important to remember that not but 20 years ago those adults today were also children who didn’t have access to good sex education and are often a product of the lack of education around the subject. They need to be included in the conversation opposed to being shut out of it.
Further, addressing the need for Sex-Ed in the country’s school curriculums Rubaroo asked how it’s importance can be highlighted. HEAL suggested, “Conducting empirical research to show the impact of sexual education in schools. For example: Research by the Public Library of Science shows that when sex education is comprehensive, students feel more informed, make safer choices and have healthier outcomes.” Currently at Atma, we are working directly with Rubaroo on many aspects of its organization including empirical evaluations to build a data-driven decisions making culture. Feminism in India, again echoed the importance of research in saying how it’s, “shown that comprehensive sexuality education leads to later sexual initiation, and responsible sexual practices (safe sex). It lowers the risk of unplanned pregnancies, STDs/STIs, and enables children to seek help in cases of child sexual abuse.”
In further addressment of marginalised communities, Rubaroo asked about what approaches can be made to make Sex-Ed accessible to the differently-abled, without compromising on the content. Akshara Centre-India made the bold statement that, “First, we need to bust the myth that disabled people are not sexual beings. It is this warped notion that often keeps them out of discussions around Sex-Ed. Once we can overcome this, plenty of resources in audio, video, etc. are available!” Changing the ideas that people have is super valuable, because the resources and the educational materials are out there. Thought Project said that, “Persons with disabilities are imagined as not having any sexual desire. They are often then understood as not requiring Sex-Ed at all, and are not a part of the curriculum either. This is a gross misrepresentation and increases cases of abuse.”
Rubaroo led the discussion on to asking how can one become an LGBTQI+ ally with regards to teaching Sex-Ed. Thought Project was forward in saying that, “Acknowledging and normalising the existence of persons from the LGBTQI+ community, their desires and pleasures, and consent.” This is calling us to, “Move away from heteronormative definitions of sexual intercourse.” Devi_Podcast asked us to not, “assume sexuality/gender when teaching, share knowledge on various types of sex for those of all sexualities as if they are all normal practices.” Anushree Samant [she/her]| gave us a practical list:
Address one's own prejudice and work towards it, there shouldn't be any discrimination.
Educate yourself before imparting the knowledge (by attending workshops, talking to experts, etc. there are resources available everywhere).
Heena Sinha from Girlwithacamblog.wordpress.com said that, “People are unaware of the basic differences between sex and gender, as well as gender expression, identity, and sexual preferences. So once we break these myths, the doubts around LGBTQI+ issues will be cleared and there will be an openness towards the LGBTQI+ community.” Menstrupedia remind us of the innocence of children in saying that, “By addressing and acknowledging the same when teaching Sex-Ed a lot of children have doubts regarding this and when it is addressed, almost all become an ally.” ECF India also mentioned that, “by talking about diversity and inclusion, begin acceptance of diverse sexual identities and learn to respect these. Rethinking gender norms goes a long way in smashing restrictive binary narratives and increasing acceptance of the self and others.” Super School India said that, “As an organization, we first have to educate ourselves on the LGBTQI+ communities, on what Sex-Ed means to the LGBTQI+ communities, and include the communities in the campaigns, content design and have representatives as advisors.”
A controversial question in not only India, but in many parts of the world is what age should sex education be started for children. Thought Project thinks that, “Teaching consent must start from the very beginning. Correct naming of body parts can be introduced at a primary level, and at an early middle school [level], topics can be introduced in a scaffolded manner, and be layered as the grades progress.” Devi_Podcast said that, “Super controversial but when it comes to consent and understanding body anatomy, the earlier the better! Grade 2 or 3 perhaps. Too many instances where young kids don't know the names for body parts and aren't able to identify/call out when/if they experienced sexual abuse.” Agents of Ishq again points to the lack of knowledge among parents responding that, “Most sex-educators say 3 or 4. Parents become very pale at the thought - but that's because there isn't awareness of holistic Sex-Ed. When we see Sex-Ed in a comprehensive way, we can weave different topics into the conversation as required for a particular age/stage.”
Many organizations expressed their gratitude to Rubaroo for hosting this event, and our team at Atma is included in that group. Agents of Ishq said, “Thank you to Rubaroo and to everyone who shared their insights. It was wonderful to connect to a community in these times. Stay well everyone, and more power to everyone's work.” One Future Collective said, “Thank you Rubaroo for hosting an insightful chat on CSE and different aspects of child sexual abuse! It was a wonderful learning opportunity for everyone at the One Future Team!” Gender at Work India also shared, “We learnt a great deal and [were] thrilled to have participated. Keep up the good work you all are doing. It’s making a difference.”
Rubaroo has proven itself again and again as an incredible, collaborative, and progressive organization that is doing some of the most controversial and frustrating work in education in India. Our team at Atma joins those organizations in gratitude. We love working with Rubaroo in the field and in the office, and commend them on their work. Also, to the multiple organizations that joined in the discussion. Thank you for your continuous work on a subject that is so important, but will inherently always be controversial and not always the easiest of topics to discuss.