July 06, 2014

AIDWA Flays Health Minister

THROUGH a statement issued from New Delhi on June 30, the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) has sharply criticised the union health minister Dr Harshvardhan’s statement calling for a ban on sex education in schools. Despite his later prevarication, wherein he explained that he was not against sex education per se but only against its so called “vulgarity,” the AIDWA said he has exposed his conservative and medieval mindset that undermines the rights of adolescents in this country to learn about their bodies, know more about their own sexual urges and their outcomes, in scientific terms.   To the AIDWA, the statements are profoundly worrying because the statement by a senior doctor, who is also the health minister in the BJP government, reflects the culture of hypocrisy that is leading to many forms of violence against girls in our country. For instance, a huge burden is being placed on girls who are still being married off early in many regions of our nation. In most of the Hindi speaking states, child marriage rates are unacceptably high, touching almost 50 percent of marriages. It is an inescapable reality that we have one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. And abortions contribute about 12 percent to these deaths. Additionally, an estimated six million illegal abortions are conducted in India every year, primarily among the poor. If we want to reduce these deaths, we must act on a number of fronts, including sex education, which would, hopefully, empower women to make choices and say no to unprotected, forced and undesirable sexual behaviours. Moreover, the AIDWA said, as the age of marriage gets rightfully pushed back, it becomes even more important for adolescents to make informed decisions about their relationships with persons of the opposite sex. Depriving them of sex education provided in schools would only push them into accessing information from the net or other sources, without discrimination. Currently, a large section of teenagers are quite susceptible to the often distorted, anti-women messages projected through the media. Indeed, sex education including education on sexuality must be seen as one part of the larger struggle for equality and against gender discrimination in society. It is essential to inculcate the values of sharing and togetherness among boys and girls. This will be a small step towards addressing the incidence of violence against women, especially within homes, but also outside homes.  Condemning the health minister’s statements unequivocally, the AIDWA has urged him to adopt a progressive and rational approach to the issue. Like most males who speak from a conservative ideology, he is obviously ignorant of the issues of gender and patriarchy in the real world. The government needs to intervene not to "ban" sex education but to facilitate the preparation of an effective syllabus and adequate textbooks as well as ensure sensitisation of teachers and guardians. The government must commit itself to universalising sex education in schools, the AIDWA demanded.