In a bid to reach out to 26 crore adolescents in the country on health issues, the Ministry has decided to involve 1.65 lakh peer educators called “Saathiya”.
The legality of homosexuality may still be an open question for the judiciary and the Government is yet to change the law but resource material prepared by the Health Ministry for adolescent peer educators has taken a step in the sensitive direction.
It tells young people that it is all right to “feel attraction” for the opposite sex or the same sex during adolescence. The crucial aspects of all such relationships, it says, are consent and respect.
“Yes, adolescents frequently fall in love. They can feel attraction for a friend or any individual of the same or opposite sex. It is normal to have special feelings for someone. It is important for adolescents to understand that such relationships are based on mutual consent, trust, transparency and respect. It is alright to talk about such feelings to the person for whom you have them but always in a respectful manner… Boys should understand that when a girl says ‘no’ it means no,” reads the resource material in Hindi that is going to be circulated to states as part of the adolescent peer-education plan.
In a bid to reach out to 26 crore adolescents in the country on health issues, the Ministry has decided to involve 1.65 lakh peer educators called “Saathiya”. The resource kit prepared for these educators that was unveiled by Health Secretary C K Mishra on Monday not only treats the issue of same-sex attraction with unusual maturity but also talks about contraception and gender-based violence in great detail.
The peer educators are being trained under the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK). “Despite the expansion of media, there are many unanswered questions in the minds of young people in villages. Saathiya will address these questions. We are also talking about behavioural change and a change in thinking,” Mishra said.
The resource material prepared in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund also dispels gender stereotypes in the section on mental health where it says it is fine for boys to cry and categorisations such as “sissy” and “tomboy” are inappropriate.
“A boy can cry to give vent to his feelings. He can also be soft-spoken or shy. Being rude and insensitive is not a sign of masculinity. It is alright for boys to like things like cooking and designing that are normally associated with girls; adopting the role of the other gender does not mean that he is not male. The same applies for girls who talk too much or like to dress like boys or play games like boys. It is wrong to label such people as ‘sissy’ or ‘tomboy’.”
The section also deals with addiction, smoking and alcohol laying down their short and long-term harmful effects and also deals with conflict resolution.
The section on reproductive health has information not just about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases but also exhaustive information on contraceptive options (pills, condoms, IUCDs etc) for both boys and girls, listing masturbation as one of the topmost options for practising “safe sex”. It also has information on abortion and the need for parental or consent of guardian for girls younger than 18 years who want to undergo abortion.
The peer educators who will be trained by the health department with the help of the resource material given out by the Centre will do voluntary work but will be entitled to a “non-monetary” payment of Rs 50 per month, in the form of magazine subscriptions or mobile recharge or any other means as decided by the state.
First published by The Indian Express