Talking of Reproductive Health

Education about reproductive health related problems is the need of the hour

RIGHT APPROACH

KALPANA TIKKU

Speaking about sexual and reproductive health of adolescents is a delicate issue, one that raises strong emotional responses from adults in general. The entire issue of sexuality is taboo. Ignorance, misinformation, and misconceptions concerning issues of sexuality and health abound among the vast majority of adolescents. However neither cultural norms nor censorship on information and expression have been able to stop them from evolving sexually. This results in situations where their sexual experience is often gained in unplanned or secretive fashion under circumstances that make them vulnerable to coercion and sexually transmitted infections. They make uninformed choices that affect their lives and health in serious and irreversible ways.
Adolescence is a time of dynamic change, filled with new feelings, physical and emotional changes, excitement, questions, and difficult decisions. During this time, young people need information about their own sexuality and skills. There is a difference between love, romance and infatuation and it needs to be talked about. They need to learn how to manage new feelings about sexuality in order to make responsible decisions about their health, reproduction, and parenthood.
Sexual liberty has not yet been fully integrated into the ideologies of human rights and freedom of speech and therefore more prone to ideological criticism.  The social consequences of sexual morals are difficult to penetrate and hence, difficult to criticize. It is not an easy task to challenge traditional and conservative sexual norms and values. Sex is regarded as a private matter and discussions on it are not acceptable by our society yet.  We are not expected to bring up sexual discussions in public. The social implications of this however are not very pleasant, giving rise to increasing level of involvement in cyber sex among young people and extremely rapid and bewildering changes in attitudes and behavior towards the opposite sex.  At the time I was growing up, society was a lot more conservative than it is today and we had to do whatever information we could gather through older friends. At times, even that was not possible. It was too shameful a subject to be discussed with a parent and too awkward to ask others. Today I look back and wish someone had taught us everything we needed to know in a proper and guided manner. It took me many years to understand that sexuality is not only about sex; it is about gender aspects, sexual orientation and every issue connected to sexual development which can be dealt with in phases as the child is growing. The youth today are becoming more liberal in public expressions of sexual feelings. They need accurate information on these subjects to make healthy choices and feel more comfortable with the changes they are experiencing.  They will be embarrassed asking parents about anything to do with sex or reproduction.  We should not let this make us uncomfortable. We must let the embarrassment pass and focus on the information and skills they need. Teaching life skills and reproductive health is not easy. There is no shame in saying 'I don't know.'  Parents should be co-educators in teaching life skills and reproduction to their children but they often have concerns when reproduction is taught and do not feel comfortable addressing these issues.
Adolescent reproductive health is a healthy condition concerning the system, function and reproductive processes owned by a teenager. Healthy here does not merely mean disease-free or free from defects but also mentally and socially healthy. They need to be fully informed about their reproductive system, dangers of drugs and alcohol on reproductive health, sexual violence and how to avoid them.
Reproduction is a continuing process of descent that is a shared responsibility of men and women. Both should know and understand the various aspects of reproductive health.   Dialogue between adults and young people on the subject should be encouraged.  Teachers, community elders, religious heads, youth group leaders, health care professionals, all need to come together to promote sexual and reproductive health by addressing  preventive behaviours,  sexually transmitted infections, abstinence, gender violence, decision-making, communication and other related life skills.
How would we be able to deal with the increasing rate of sexual abuse/molestation/rape happening every single day? Not only the kids do not know how to protect themselves sexually but also we as parents are not yet prepared to monitor and protect our children against sexually-related problems. Sexual education in schools would be a welcome and most effective way to teach young people about their bodies, to overcome sexual harassment and promote positive sexual health at the individual, family and community level. Some studies on girls in India have found that they are generally told nothing of menstruation until their first personal experience of it.
However, in our society, sexual education is still not considered a health priority, and reviews have shown that this has resulted in poor sexual behaviors and outcomes, reproductive ill-health and one of the major causes of morbidity and mortality among young people. If teachers are themselves uncomfortable about sexuality issues, it poses a challenge to our children as well. Reproductive Health education is the need of the hour. Turning back the clock on reproductive health is akin to turning back the clock on decades of social and cultural change. There is a thus dire need to initiate programs, based on needs identified, which will build the competencies of adolescents/youth to deal effectively with the challenges of everyday life. The life cycle approach is a philosophy that prepares a young girl for future motherhood, joyful pregnancy, safe delivery and responsible parenthood. Correct information, knowledge and skills provided during adolescence will prepare them as responsible and healthy citizens. In a conservative society like ours, anything related to sexuality and women is usually very controversial. Fortunately, people are now waking up to facts and understanding why we need to talk about this sensitive issue. The problem is much deeper and goes beyond a medical concern. If women cannot make a decision about their own bodies, how can they make decisions in their communities or families? People living in a community know their problems better than anyone else, but they must start by acknowledging concerns of both men and women. Time has come to break taboos and initiate open and inclusive dialogue as the starting point for community discussions on important and difficult issues. A focus on gender helps communities to value the girl child and to foster an atmosphere in which women feel empowered.
Unfortunately, young people are still seen by the government as non-sexual beings because information and services relating to reproductive health is mostly given to married couples. As a result, young people’s reproductive health needs are under-served, and they remain under-informed, marginalized and disadvantaged. There is no State mandated sex education in schools and not all adolescents are fortunate enough to have access to the internet or magazines from which they might get some information about their changing bodies and relationships. The government still treats sex as a private matter and not as a public concern. Consequently, sexuality remains marginal in the health and education agendas.

(Kalpana Tikku is the Managing Trustee of ARNIMAAL, a voluntary Organization working in the valley. Feedback at kalpana.w@hotmail.com)

Lastupdate on : Thu, 7 Feb 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 7 Feb 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 8 Feb 2013 00:00:00 IST




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