In India, equipping adolescents with adequate sexual and reproductive health information and shaping a gender-progressive attitude in them has historically been ignored.
In India, equipping adolescents with adequate sexual and reproductive health information and shaping a gender-progressive attitude in them has historically been ignored. With sex and gender education dealt with perfunctorily in school curricula—take the out-of-school adolescents into account, and the problem worsens—and adults choosing to either sweep queries under the carpet or remain tight-lipped, many adolescents often turn to dubious sources of information, and that shapes unhealthy attitudes towards these matters in later life. All this, however, could soon change, if the resource kit the Union health ministry has drafted for adolescent health education is widely adopted to inform young adults about these matters. The resource-kit, drafted as a guide to train 1.65 lakh peer-to-peer educators called saathiya, encourages a progressive stand on a wide range of issues such as consent, gender stereotypes, etc.
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The most striking change from the past is that the resource-kit addresses the issue of homosexuality squarely—deeming same-sex attraction natural—and advises against discrimination. It also comes out strongly against unhealthy gender stereotypes, reinforced in common perceptions of what constitutes masculine and feminine behaviour, and gender-based violence. There is also relevant information about contraception—teenage pregnancy in India is more than twice as common in US and ten times that of Western Europe, though this has more to do with girls being married off early here—and sexual behaviour that is of immense import in a largely prudish country. With 26 crore adolescents in India, the resource kit and the saathiya initiative are an opportunity to build the right attitudes towards sexual and reproductive health and gender in the adults of tomorrow.