Let’s stop saying “shhh, gandi baat”
From the precise moment that we come into this world we start learning things. Each day in our life is filled with learning milestones, we learn how to walk, how to talk, how to eat our food and a plethora of other things. As we grow older our list of “must learn” skills and information continues to expand. We find new teachers and mentors, our parents and family aren’t enough, we cross over to other realms to learn new things. So it’s surprising that when we come to learning certain essentials i.e., sex education, the wide opinion remains that we should pretend it doesn’t exist.
That’s not to say that people haven’t tried to add such education into school curriculum within Pakistan. The Bargad project closed shop on a very important project that aimed to education young girls on how to lead healthy and meaningful lives. The EGTC (Empowering Girls – Transforming Communities) project was shut down because it contained material educating young girls about sex, along with other important matter which aimed to groom them as individuals. Even though the programme was developed through collaboration with the local education authorities, all the material was recalled and it didn’t take long for Bargad to get entangled in a lawsuit which is now looking to shut the entire NGO down altogether. The pamphlets and books were being included in the curriculum for students in grades 6-8.
It is easy to keep sex education out of the classroom, but it’s impossible to keep out of our schools. And in the absence of a rational mature voice to paint a picture of what goes on behind closed door, adolescents paint their own pictures with whatever fractured information they have. Pakistan’s 20 million internet users are only going to continue growing. At present our nation tops the charts in Google searches for sex related content. What you’re not teaching your children is finding its way into their minds in the worst form possible. No young child or teenager will look for healthy information on sex; they don’t know how, because we don’t bother discussing these things with our children. People who argue that it goes against our social norms or religious values forget that sex has been discussed time and time again in Islamic scripture. There’s an abundance of material from the methods you can use to the precautions you should take, all you have to do is go and read it.
Without a working knowledge of sex, children are raped everyday in Pakistan – at times they don’t even know they’re being subjected to abuse. We hide incest underneath our dark covers and stay mum on the subject if it is ever found. And the first people to get blamed are not the perpetrators but the victims. And abuse doesn’t just happen to young girls, boys are just as much at risk as girls are. However, if they don’t know that they’re touched in the wrong way they’ll never be able to tell anyone. We do have cases of people growing up to realise they were abused all along. The emotional instability that comes with being abused is another topic altogether.
There are multiple cases of abortions gone wrong where young girls lose their lives, and those same girls often botch up their reproductive system, or die at the hands of some quack doctor. This we can live with instead of telling them how not to land there in the first place. In cases where abortions can’t be executed we have forced marriages to fill up the gap. People have to be taught different things; at some point in our lives we learned how to eat because it was a basic need – sex is no different, then why does it face such censorship? Pakistan is a country where, unfortunately, our primary form of entertainment is intimacy. And we continue to argue that we shouldn’t teach the basics of puberty and intimacy to the young ones amongst us, just so we can stay in our happy little bubble.
Sex education doesn’t stop at reproduction. It combines a lot of other aspects that affect people on an individual level. Issues including body image, decision making, forming relationships, STDs, contraception, etc are all an imperative for a healthy life. By ensuring that sex education is kept out of the curriculum, we’re in effect ensuring that we push people out into the real world with fissures in their understanding of what to do in it. Instead of focusing on what really entails the birds and the bees, we focus on everything that is dirty. The first reaction from any normal person when asked about sex education is of such horror and distaste you’d think they were being asked to willingly expose their children to porn, which is not the case. Of course what this basically means is that before parents and teachers can educate anyone on sex they must first be educated on how to do it.
So while we comfortably ban NGOs that are trying to help our children, block late night cell phone packages and applaud that the PTA was administering bans on porn sites, what we’re overlooking are the same children who are constantly outsmarting us through dirty magazines, Skype dates and proxy servers. We, at this point, have two choices: continue to pretend that a magic stork flew out of our backyards and threw children at us, or explain to our youngsters what sex is so that they don’t live out their experiences and encounters the same way they saw the good people in the porn movie did.
The writer is a journalist based in Lahore. She tweets @luavut, and can be emailed at: [email protected]