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By Himani Shah:
“So what is it that you do over there?” my father asked me a couple of months after I started working with TYPF, an NGO that engages young people on Comprehensive Sexuality Education. I was amused for a moment, since I realised that I hadn’t even shared the work I was doing with my family. And then came the most difficult task. Explaining Comprehensive Sexuality Education to my father, my father who didn’t care much about “such issues”, in his own words.
So I carefully started telling him about what I learnt while working with TYPF, about how we interact with young people from various walks of life, and try and talk to them about things like gender, sex, patriarchy, the interplay of multiple factors which influences these things, about consent, violence, body anatomy, contraceptives, sexual transmitted diseases, etc. I was almost getting into the flow of talking about these things, when he suddenly interrupted me, with an expression of incredulity, and said, “oh, I thought you just go and teach them basic subjects, and give them basic education. Do all the people you interact with have access to quality education?” To which I told him some of them do, and some of them don’t. Then he asked me another hard hitting question, “Isn’t it better to give them a good school education so that they can have a better future, so that they can make their lives better?”.
This hit me hard, for various reasons.
Here's what I understood - most people think that this information is not as necessary as school education.
And so I went back to why CSE is important in the first place, and what had I learnt from it. I told my father about how CSE shouldn’t be measured in comparison to school education, and that both are equally important and useful in any person's life. CSE helps one understand the various narratives surrounding so many issues that all of us face in our daily lives. It helps us cope with so many problems since it gives us a better insight into things.
I went to a good school and had access to most facilities, but through CSE, I became aware of my own biases. I understood what 'gender fluidity' means; I understood how we, in our daily lives put ourselves and others into boxes. How when we see a guy with a nose piercing, which I did at one of the TYPF meetings, I guessed he would be gay. I later came to realise that I shouldn’t have judged a person based on how he chose to accessorize.
Another time, when I was leading a session in a community, one of the girls present told us about an incident when someone told her she looked like a maid. This made her really upset, and she was quite distressed even while telling us. Another person in the group told her a very simple thing - that the person who told her that had put her in a box by attributing her appearance to that of a maid, but also about how she herself had put maids in a box by believing that it's demeaning to “look like a maid”. These are just some examples of various things I learnt and experienced through CSE.
Lastly, I’ve come to realise one thing, that most of us have biases which we ourselves are not aware of, and there can be various reasons for that. But to truly get over them, we must first try and unlearn those things and come to a neutral perspective. Implementing CSE had taught me to step out of my comfort zone, to talk about things which make me excruciatingly uncomfortable, and try and make the other people around me feel comfortable in talking to me despite that.
The author is a TYPF Peer Educator and Youth Advocate.