Sex is still a taboo in Nepali society, and almost everyone hesitates to talk about anything related to sexual and reproductive health. The “silence,” however, can have grave consequences and 2016 LEADer Reezma wants us to speak up.
This post was written by Bidhyalaxmi Maharjan, Women LEAD’s Communication Intern
“Will I get pregnant if I kiss someone?” a student innocently asked during a session on reproductive health in Reezma’s class. The class immediately burst into laughter, struck by the naivety of the student’s question. For 2016 Reezma, however, the question was no laughing matter. Instead, it showed a greater issue she has seen in her country at-large: the misinformation regarding sexual and reproductive health.
Sex is still a taboo in Nepali society, and almost everyone hesitates to talk about anything related to sexual and reproductive health. “Even the educated people do not feel comfortable to talk when it comes to discussing reproductive health,” says Reezma, who is concerned about the lack of knowledge regarding sexual and reproductive health can have, especially among adolescents.
Reezma knows exactly what consequences the lack of knowledge of sexual and reproductive health can have in the lives of young adults. The social stigma surrounding sex prevents adolescents from learning about healthy sexual and reproductive lives. “We come from such a society where we feel a sense of shyness, shame and guilt when we talk about sex. We keep our queries to ourselves and never talk openly about them,” she says. For Reezma, it is important that young people have a safe and comfortable environment to discuss and learn about sexual and reproductive health.
“Nowadays, we easily get along with people of opposite sex and make friends, but talking about sexual and reproductive health among one another is still not easy,” says Reezma. “There is a fair chance that they will engage in sexual activities, but many [youth] lack the right information and capacity to make responsible decisions,” she explains.The lack of accurate information about reproductive health and safe contraception methods leaves many adolescents prone to unsafe sexual practices, unintended pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), youth aged 15 to 24 accounted for an estimated 45% of new HIV infections worldwide in 2007 and UNFPA Nepal states that adolescent birth rate is 71 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years. “If youth have proper education, they can identify sexual abuses and harmful sexual practices and safeguard themselves from against such activities,” she adds.
Though sexual and reproductive education is included in school level curriculum in Nepal, Reezma thinks needs to be revised in order to be more impactful. “Sex education should be taught to adolescents from early teenage, according to their age. Moreover, teachers should be skilled at giving such classes and should create safe space for students to share their queries. Only reading about them in books is not enough. Such classes should be interactive,” she says. According to an issue brief by the Nepal-based nonprofit Yuwa, “Students are exposed to the subject much later than when they should actually have been. All the information is flooded in class 9 all of a sudden rather than gradually introducing age appropriate topics.” In addition, it also states that although sex education and reproductive education are two different things, the curriculum only talks about reproductive health and very less is mentioned about sexual health.
Lack of ease in the classroom is another problem that makes it difficult for adolescents to gain information. “It is learning about our body and it is related to both boys and girls so they should not feel uncomfortable to discuss sexual and reproductive health,” Reezma explained.
Women LEAD strives to create the sort of environment Reema describes. At Women LEAD our LEADers can find a safe space where they can share their queries and worries related to their reproductive health, which can range from questions about contraceptives to menstrual hygiene. In addition to this, our LEADers share their knowledge about the subject through a session on reproductive health in the School Leadership Program (SLP) with male and female students in Class 9.
As for Reezma, besides her interest in advancing sexual and reproductive health, she wants to continue to find ways to encourage youth to talk about the subject by pursuing a career in journalism. “I want to express my opinions and share it with other people, for which I think can be best achieved through media… Media can provide me opportunities to advocate for sexual and reproductive health and reach wider audience,” she says.