In the context of rising sexual violence in Bangladesh, Tonni Aktar once again raises the issue of sexual education
SEX education has widely become an important issue to be discussed. Most of the people have a lot of questions about sex education like what is sex education, what are the taboos behind sex education in Bangladesh, why sex education is important for secondary school-going students, what are the benefits of sex education and most importantly can sex education reduce gender discrimination and gender based violence?
Among parents, there are some misconceptions about sex education. They wrongly believe that it is only about issues relating to the sexual intercourse and related matters that should not be discussed in front of children.
Therefore, we have to know what sex education is all about. What is covered in a sex education curriculum? An acceptable definition of sex education is the instruction of issues relating to human sexuality, including emotional relations and responsibilities, human sexual anatomy, sexual activity, sexual reproduction, age of consent, reproductive health, reproductive rights, safe sex, birth control and sexual abstinence. Sex education that covers all of these aspects is known as comprehensive sex education. Common avenues for sex education are parents or caregivers, formal school programs, and public health campaigns. It does not encourage or discourage having sex, rather it does quite the opposite. Sex education is designed to help young people acquire knowledge about human sexual behaviour that eventually lead them to make informed and healthy decision in life.
In Bangladesh, sex education is taboo because of the misconceptions mentioned above. It is commonly believed that parents or guardians should not talk about such subject with their children. Majority of parents do not have any idea about the sex education curriculum. Our socio-culture and religious morality partly informs this view on sex education.
Sex education however is important for secondary school students. Adolescent boys and girls tend to be sensitive and curious about their sexuality. In the absence of formal sexu education, they embark upon unguided adventure and try our things they are exposed to on television or on the internet.
Sexually explicit contents are everywhere — television, advertisements, music video, games and social media. Exposure to such contents eventually influences sexual behaviour and choices. They engage in sexual activities trying to uncover the mysteries of their bodies. Such ill-informed sexual practices carries the risk of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and sex addictions among many others things. Many teenagers are engaging in sexual activity. This calls for the need of sex education in schools.
Sex education will help them make better and informed decisions about their personal activities and also helps to reduce risky behaviours. A thorough understanding of the sexual and gender difference allows one to respect personal and social boundaries.
Knowledge shared in class room about bodily changes help student enter into puberty in a health manner and reduces possibility of sexual crime to meet unmet curiosity during this time. Recent increase in violence against women is forcing us to come to terms with an uncomfortable truth — sexual predators live and walk amongst us. Therefore, we need to have the conversation with school going students about sex, unwanted touches and inappropriate behaviour.
Recently, the government of Bangladesh have legally endorsed child marriage under special circumstances. The World Population Report 2013 mentioned that around 17 per cent girls of Bangladesh get married before consenting age and large majority of them becomes a mother of two before they turn eighteen. These young girls enter marriage without proper knowledge about sexual and reproductive health. In order to exercise their reproductive rights, women need to know more and sex education could play an important role particularly in a patriarchal context.
According to our socio-cultural condition, the workplace of woman is home and the workplace of man is outside world. Women are not just considered to be physically weak. Young men in Bangladesh grow up with such views of women and with little contact with women after puberty. Differences in gender roles intensify during adolescence when boys enjoy new social privileges reserved only for men such as autonomy, mobility, opportunity and power while girls are slapped with restrictions.
School can play a pivotal role in tackling gender discrimination and gender based violence. Sex education introduces concepts of consent respect, privacy and bodily integrity and allows students to engage in sexual activities in more respectful and informed way.
The world in which young people grow up today is different from that of their parents or grandparents. They are likely to have widespread access to sexually explicit contents. In urban middleclass society, they are postponing marriage and child bearing until later and are more likely to have sex before marriage. Sex education helps adolescents to prepare better for life changes such as puberty, menopause, aging, also understands the place of sexuality in human life.
In reality, sex education students could provide a platform for an open and honest discussion about issues relating to sexuality. With appropriate counselling and continuous guidance, students\ can learn to channel their sexual energy without harming themselves and anyone else.
Tonni Aktar is a student of University of Dhaka.