Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How Safe? How Informed?

Recently, we had organized a workshop on gender discrimination and Pre-birth sex selection in one of the premier colleges of Mumbai. As always the interaction was energetic and the participation enthusiastic.

However, we observed a few disturbing trends. A majority of the students when asked if abortion is illegal in India said "yes". What is bothersome is, the same students expressed their concern about peer pressure to have boy friends because "everybody has one", "it shows that you are desirable" and because "It is cool". The concern did not stop at having a boy friend or not. The girls were very much bothered about pre-marital sex. Should they indulge in it or not, and whether they can say no to demand for physical intimacy from the boy friends were some of the issues which were discussed.

The discussion was followed by a role play where they were asked to portray the current scenario and how they would like to change it. The first role play showed a shy and insecure girl smitten by a very popular macho man of the college, who takes advantage of her attraction for him, gets her to have sex with him and dumps her when she gets pregnant. The girl commits suicide.

The second scenario showed the same girl being advised by a friend about the bad character of the boy and the girl walks out of the relationship hurling abuses.There was no depiction of any assertive communication or negotiation in the two role plays.

Both the role plays depict the extreme situation, which may not be the case in reality. But more importantly, both the role plays showed the inability of the young women to negotiate their sexual rights, whether it is consent to sexual intimacy, use of contraceptives or access to safe abortion. This is scary! Particularly when we juxtapose it against their ignorance about the legal abortion services.

It is clear from the above that there is an immediate and urgent need to involve young women and men in a dialogue on issues related to sexuality and reproductive rights. The question is, are we as parents, teachers and social development workers ready to break the silence around these issues by addressing them head on? Or are we just happy letting them make sense of this chaotic world with its changing perceptions about pre-marital sex and pregnancies and the changing sexual mores?

The need to provide skills to youth to make informed decisions and opt for safe sex practices cannot be ignored. The media, educational institutions and the NGOs need to get working with youth in real earnest asap.