Fighting rape and sexual oppression starts with two words: Sex Education
I recently wrote a blog called “Should women change the way they dress? Or should we change how we think?” to try and find the root causes of violence and oppression towards women so we can work towards a solution. And I think I may have found it. Well, at least one of the best long-term solutions. One word. Education.
It is, of course, important to impart sensitivity training for law-enforcement personnel, lawyers, judges and politicians. But adults have a very rigid mindset and their belief systems are hard to change. It is children, particularly pre-teens, who need to be educated about genders, love, sex, health, oppression and abuse so, when they encounter such acts in their homes and communities, they will be able to identify it and not allow such incidences to shape their idea of how to behave.
I’ll try to show you why through a response I gave to a Facebook post by a close friend of mine, Simon Bellord, who objected to a Christian organisation coming out with a document objecting to sex education for primary school kids. I feel this will help illustrate how sex education for children has the potential to change this country.
The Present State
I was brought up without almost any knowledge of sex or even that girls didn’t have wee-wees like us boys. Most of my education came from The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris at age 11. This book studies the similarities and differences in various aspects of ape and human life.Also in India, there is little sex education, if any. (See: What Harsh Vardhan Says and Sex Education) When I was learning about the reproductive system in biology class I was asked to omit large portions of text and was forbidden to read them. I still did so and learned quite a bit, which I’m happy for. I think this helped me in understanding women, and myself, better, and made me more sexually conscious and responsible.Any woman in India, or who has been to India, will tell you about the lechers and eve-teasers that fill every corner of the country. We have ridiculously high rates of sexual crime as well as the second largest population in the world. Does that say something about us ‘conservative’ Indians? I prefer to use the words ‘sexually oppressed’. It’s ironic that this is the country that produced the Kama Sutra.
Sex Ed gives rise to Perverts and Pregnant Teens
There is no evidence to support this. Yes, teenage pregnancy is a major problem. It is also surprising to note that there are a lot of sexually irresponsible teenagers out there who like to have sex after getting trashed on a Saturday night, and usually this ends up without protection. Such a blatant disregard to any consequences is dangerous. All the more reason to start sex education earlier before any damage is done.
So when do we start sex education for kids? (See: Psychology Today and New York Times)
The key is to teach kids the important things before puberty so that they know how to deal with their changes and urges better. They would also know about penises and vaginas and how babies are made so they know about safety, STD’s and molestation. For instance, without this kind of awareness before adolescence hits, most girls would have no idea about menstruation and would be traumatised when they had their first period. And if it happens in school, they’d be teased about it and the trauma would become far worse. Basically, I feel starting before kids hit puberty will help minimise the chances of young cases of STDs, teen pregnancy and a lot of teasing, bullying and harassment.
The Benefits of Sex Education
I worked in a rural marketing agency whose clients were non-governmental organisations trying to educate the rural masses about sex and contraception. One of them, Deepalaya, ran camps that took children in for a weekend and educated them about many aspects of sex and gender issues.
I spoke to these youngsters and discussed what they learned and how they could teach the same things to their parents (remember, their families are living below the poverty line with limited, if any, access to an education you or I would consider adequate). They left me reeling. I don’t think most well-educated folks from higher social classes would have that kind of sensitivity and respect for the opposite gender. These kids not only knew about themselves but also respected each other’s sexuality more than most adults. They knew the reproductive process, menstrual cycles and understood what STDs were and how to prevent them. And these are kids as young as age 5 years old. Amazing!
It's not just about Sex
Sex education should also be taught responsibly and help children understand their own, and each other’s bodies better. It won’t turn them into perverts or rapists. I have seen evidence of that. These lessons need to be well taught and relevant to the child and his or her age, as is the case of every other aspect of education. And if children come to the teacher with a question, like one that’s about a situation at home with how their parents treat each other, fights, abuse and molestation, the teacher needs to be well trained enough to counsel student appropriately. With this kind of education and sensitisation, I feel children would have a much higher chance of becoming knowledgeable, respectful, healthy and responsible adults.
(ADDENDUM) The Bottom Line
Sex education isn't just about teaching kids about the reproductive system. It's about making them aware of their bodies. And wisdom can be built on knowledge and awareness. This is about teaching kids the facts of how their bodies work, what STDs are, what to expect during adolescence, what is safe, loving sex and what is abuse, molestation and rape. And most importantly, how the two genders, though different, are a part of being human. That no gender is superior or inferior but both worthy of equal respect.
Now, not many of us are qualified to impart this kind of education. And reforming an entire nation’s school system is an incredibly massive and complicated task, to say the least. But there is something we can do. Find charities and NGOs working in the field of sex education and help them out. Start here http://www.deepalaya.org and give as generously as you can, and even volunteer if you can. Every mind, every child, brings the potential of changing our society for the better, for good.