Educating students on sexual and reproductive health can often be tricky, especially with adolescents when they have just reached puberty. The most important group of people who need to be targeted are adolescent girls. If adolescent girls in the community become aware of their own reproductive health and start talking about it openly, then generations to come will be more sensitized to issues related to reproductive health and – more importantly – open to talking about it. Unfortunately, most schools in India do not promote and talk about sexuality and reproductive health, so students always feel awkward and shy talking about these things. Ideally adolescent boys and girls should learn about sexuality and reproductive health in school itself. The majority of the youth in India rely on pornographic material and conversations with peers to get crucial information related to sexual and reproductive health. Complete absence of comprehensive sexual health education in Indian schools is one of the biggest reasons for the prevailing taboo. Teachers and parents fear that openly talking about the topic will give young people a message that it is okay for them to have sex. Everyone, especially young people, need to be informed about the sexual and reproductive health so that they can make the right choice.
In an effort to address this issue, Jagori has decided to start working with 15 government schools. The Jagori health team started conducting school health sessions which aim to properly educate the students on gender, sexuality, reproductive health, and gender equality. Jagori also makes an equal effort to educate adults, and we work and train teachers in the schools on these issues as well for that matter. It is inevitable to include gender sensitization and sexual and reproductive health education as a part of the regular school curriculum. Almost all the issues related to sexual health and the discrimination among men and women in the society can be tackled in this way.
The main reason for school visits is to raise awareness on gender equality among kids. Our society is patriarchal and it is difficult to change the mindset of adults. Adolescents usually learn faster than adults, thus conducting these sessions will lead to change in the society in the longer run. One of the schools we are covering is a government school in Harchakkian and a government school Kotla (both in Kangra distict in Himachal Pradesh). The teachers there feel a need to do awareness sessions among the children there since the school is in a remote area and the students are mostly learning new things from the internet these days. While the internet is a very quick and useful way to access lot of information, accessing the wrong information sometimes can be very harmful for kids. We believe that conducting sessions in schools is extremely important to move towards a gender equal society. Today’s adolescents are tomorrow’s youth and youth are the biggest change agents for any country. Conducting school sessions on body literacy, gender and sexual health thus is very critical for adolescents. Along with the students, we are also be training the teachers on these issues; sometimes teachers are not able to answer questions that the students are asking on issues of gender inequality and sexual health.
In the coming three months, Jagori will be targeting another six schools. The target is to do sessions only in government schools, but we will also try to reach out to as many private schools as possible. The reason behind targeting government schools is that it is easy to maintain relations with them as the government school administration is directly connected to the District Education Office (DEO), so we can get permission and keep building relations with the district administration simultaneously, which makes it easy for us to collaborate with government offices. Working in synergy with the government offices is extremely crucial if the organization has to bring about any tangible change. Government offices are the decision making authority in every case, so we need to be on board with them.
Through our collaboration with the fifteen government schools, we hope that we will be able to bring about a conscious understanding among the students regarding the importance of openly talking about sexual health. They don’t have to be ashamed of those issues.